Saturday, September 05, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: October Sky

First published: March 5, 1999
The struggle between father and son (Chris Cooper, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal, right, lies at the center of October Sky
Note: For as much as I loved October Sky, the main reason I chose to review it was that I was so disgusted by my selected review movie of that week, Joel Schumacher's Nic Cage starrer 8MM, that I said I'd rather do something uplifting and meaningful (8MM does get one mention here). It's interesting to look at the arc of Jake Gyllenhaal's career today, knowing this is where it all started for him. Also, one thing I'd change in this is the needless knock on Ryan Philippe's acting abilities. Not sure why I had an axe to grind with the guy, but he's gone on to some very fine work.

Most of today's movie tearjerkers end up being so full of pretension and phony baloney earnestness that viewers practically choke on the sentiment being jammed down their throats. Simon Birch was one such movie and Patch Adams was another. October Sky could easily have gone down a similar path, but thankfully it doesn't. Make no mistake, it's wholesome. Unapologetically so. But it never lets the drama of its scenario descend into melodrama, and therein lies its strength.

There's nothing particularly new or groundbreaking being presented here. It's not big and it's not bold. It's the true story of young Homer Hickam Jr. (Jake Gyllenhaal), following his dream to become a rocket scientist following the launch of Sputnik in the 1950s, all the while being encouraged by the teacher who never stops believing in him (Laura Dern).

Despite the trigonometric equations and rocket launches that abound, what is at the core of the film, a richly moving and passionate work from director Joe Johnston, is the struggle between Homer and his father (Chris Cooper). Coming as he does from a small town where no one is expected to anything but mine coal, Homer is a revolutionary, and like most revolutionaries he is ridiculed by his fellows and prevented from pursuing his dream.

In a film world that's becoming increasingly harsh and bitter (last weekend's 8MM comes to mind most readily), it's refreshing to know that movies like October Sky can still exist. At the forefront of the film's very human characters is Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer.

Gyllenhaal is something of a revelation in a Hollywood overflowing with actors full of style but with very little substance (think: Ryan Philippe). There is a wondrous glimmer in the actor's eyes as he watches the shimmering speck of Sputnik passing overhead that is truly magical.

Equally affecting is Chris Cooper, playing his character as a man who is not only admirable and honorable, but one who loves his children very much. The rapport between Gyllenhaal and Cooper makes for one of the most real and affecting father-son relationships committed to film.

There is an innocence about the film, from the small town setting to the lead character's youthful enthusiasm that's especially welcome in these increasingly jaded times. Put simply, October Sky is a great movie, the kind that restores one's faith in the power of cinema. It deserves to be cherished and treasured. A-

No comments: