Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Joe Johnston
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen, Laura Dern, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg, Chris Ellis.
A beautifully wrought, touching and sensitive coming of age tale set in small town America in 1957, October Sky is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable films of this year.
This inspiring film is based on the true story of Homer Hickham (played with great insight and charm by Jake Gyllenhaal, from Homegrown, City Slickers, etc), who eventually became a NASA engineer. Homer grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia, a company town centred around the coal mining industry. Like his father, and most of his friends, Homer seems destined to a life working in the pits. It seems that the only way to break out of this grim, preordained cycle is to win a football scholarship to an out of town college. Until the Russians launch Sputnik, the first manned space rocket. As Homer watches the space craft race across the night time sky, he is inspired to become a rocket scientist.
With three school friends, including his best friends Roy Lee (William Lee Scott) and O’Dell (Chad Lindberg) and the school geek Quentin (Chris Owen, from American Pie), Homer begins experimenting with rockets. Most people in town view this fool hardy activity with scepticism, especially Homer’s dad John (Chris Cooper, from Lone Star, etc), the foreman of the mine. Only his sympathetic teacher Miss Riley (Laura Dern) encourages Homer in his pursuit.
The beautifully written script from Lewis Colick draws a symbolic contrast between Homer, who is looking forward to the future, and his strong-willed father, who is still stuck in the past. John is angered by Homer’s decision to seek a life beyond the mines, and the tense conflict between the pair threatens to tear the family apart. The superb performances of Gyllenhaal and Cooper bring a solid emotional punch to this estranged relationship.
October Sky is all about following your dream, and remaining true to that ideal no matter what obstacles are put in the way. The film’s affirmative and inspiring message is backed up by some positive values, strong writing, and wonderful performances from a solid cast. Director Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Jumanji, etc) eschews the special effects and technical gimmickry of his previous films in favour of some solid emotional and human drama.
If October Sky‘s finale doesn’t leave you misty eyed then you’ve got no heart or soul.