October Sky

"Excellent"

October Sky Review


Although "October Sky" is a film with no surprises from its soundtrack of '50s rock 'n' roll standards to its triumph over adversity themes, this teen-years biography of a NASA scientist who got his start building rockets in his basement is so full of spirit and letter-perfect filmmaking that I defy anyone to watch this movie without getting a tingle in his or her heart.

Thrilling in the best sense of the word, traditional without being corny and with a script, photography and symbolism that could be the basis of a film literature textbook, "October Sky" is a classic in the making. It's just a pity it wasn't released in time for Oscar consideration.

The picture stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer Hickman, a coal miner's son determined to break away from his assumed destiny following in his father's bleak and dangerous subterranean footsteps.

Inspired by the launch of Sputnik in 1957, Homer buddies up to his high school's zit-encrusted and bespectacled class nerd (Chris Owen) to pick his brain about physics then recruits a couple more friends to help him build and launch crude rockets, eventually garnering the curiosity of his whole town and the ire of his unsupportive pop (Chris Cooper), who, naturally, sees Homer's ambition as an ill-fated pipe dream.

The defining moment in "October Sky" comes half way through the movie when Homer is left to fend for his family after his father is severely injured in the inevitable mine cave-in. Homer sees his dreams dashed and surrenders to the fate his father always had in mind for him. Hard hat on, pick ax on his shoulder, he's about to go down into the tunnels for the first time.

The steel mesh industrial elevator rattles to life and he begins his descent into the pitch black shaft. It is night, and as he looks through the wire-frame roof of the elevator car, Sputnik shoots across the starry sky overhead. The camera returns to Homer's face, dejected and momentarily resigned to what seems to be his lot in life.

Like the opening shot of "Contact" that takes us on a three-minute tour of the universe to show us just how small we are, this brilliant 60-second sequence summarizes the entire picture in one flawless and powerfully symbolic sequence.

Directed by Joe Johnston ("The Rocketeer"), almost every moment of "October Sky" breathes with this kind of gifted and timeless filmmaking. The film has a perfect story arc, almost mathematical in its precision, and puts the all-but-trite montage technique to good use in a sequence of launch pad misfires, minor triumphs and moonshine-based fuel experiments.

Johnston knows how to be subtle -- Homer's mother spends her spare time painting a mural of Myrtle Beach on her drab kitchen wall, which goes almost unnoticed until a bullet pierces the window and lodges in her synthetic ocean during a union dispute. He also knows when to pull out all the stops, adding triumphant orchestration when a coal-dusted Homer rediscovers his inspiration and emerges from the cinematically foreboding and constricting coal mine to rededicate himself to rocketry.

Gyllenhaal's performance, while overly wide-eyed in the tradition of 1950s-style dreamers, is so easy to rally behind that every time one of his missiles sears into the sky, the audience feels the same rush he feels.

As always, Chris Cooper ("The Horse Whisperer," "Lone Star") stands out in his native ability to play the honorable but imperfect hero type. He gives incredible depth to what might have been just another emotionally distant father, who finally shows his affection by attending his son's last rocket launch.

In fact, everyone in the supporting cast of working-class American Joes and Norman Rockwell teenagers contributes to the story, some with small sub-plots of their own, like Laura Dern as a Hodgkin's-stricken teacher who is Homer's most enthusiastic cheerleader.

From a film theory point of view, "October Sky" is a 10 -- a shining example of nearly flawless filmmaking, brilliant in script and execution. But more than that, it proves that a movie can be 100 percent traditional and still be fresh and exciting.

There is so much more I could say about this movie. It's just peppered with both understated and towering cinematic master strokes. But suffice to say, if Johnston, who seems to have a classical bent to his style in movies like "The Rocketeer" and "Jumanji," can continue to turn out movies this engaging with this kind of home-spun sensibility, he could be the Frank Capra of the 21st Century.



October Sky

Facts and Figures

Run time: 108 mins

In Theaters: Friday 19th February 1999

Distributed by: Universal

Production compaines: Universal Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 65 Rotten: 7

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Homer Hickam, as John Hickam, as Miss Riley, as Quentin, as Roy Lee, as O'Dell, as Elsie Hickam, Scott Miles as Jim Hickam, Randy Stripling as Leon Bolden, as Principal Turner, as Ike Bykovsky, Courtney Cole-Fendley as Dorothy Platt, David Dwyer as Jake Mosby, as Mr. Dantzler, Kailie Hollister as Valentine Carmina

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.