October Sky

October Sky


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Homer Hickham is a real person. What he did, actually happened. If he wasn't and it hadn't, Frank Capra would have come back from the grave and invented it.

Growing up in a small hillbilly coal town in West Virginia, he was so inspired by the launch of the Russian sputnik that he decided to build a rocket. Aged 14, he knew nothing, of course, but over the years, with the help of three chums, a bunch of books, the sympathetic support of a teacher (Laura Dern) and practical assistance from two machine shop operatives, he succeeded.

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What made it more remarkable was the strength of opposition he had to overcome. His father (Chris Cooper) was pathologically opposed to it, and as manager of the mine banned him from the use of its property or equipment and put every obstacle in his way. The high school head was no less encouraging. Hickham wrote a wonderful book describing all this and painting a picture of a company town, entirely dependent on coal, at a time when the industry was changing and shrinking. Director Joe Johnston and scriptwriter Lewis Colick have taken no liberties with the text and yet considerably weakened it.

By editing the story to fit the shape of a movie, too much has been left out. Homer's mother, for example, is sidelined, when, in fact, she was crucial, especially her strong views on the evil of the pit. Nothing can diminish Homer's achievement, or make it any less emotional. The Star-Spangled Banner is not played, but might well have been. The victory of the little man - in this case, teenage boys from Coalwood - over the forces of authority is a splendid one.

Cooper gives the film what it needs - guts. Jake Gullenhaal, as Homer, is bland and Dern hasn't enough screen time to raise her character above the level of a thick Southern accent. Johnston is aware that he is dealing with something fundamental in the American psyche and, out of respect, shows restraint.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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October Sky packshot
Bright young kids are inspired by Sputnik and build rockets in their spare time. A sceptical towsfolk and a disapproving father await.
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Director: Joe Johnston

Writer: Lewis Colick

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg, Natalie Canerday, Scott Miles, Randy Stripling, Chris Ellis, Elya Baskin

Year: 1999

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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