FiLM REViEW: October Sky, 1999

What a terrific movie. Based on a true story, as they say. I’ve subsequently learned that, as is pretty near always the case, the moviemakers play fast and loose with historical facts. But nevertheless, this is a very engaging story well told.

Central to the story – in which a group of kids in a coal mining town get interested in building rockets, after seeing the Soviet Sputnik satellite pass overhead – are numerous strands of relationships.

Pa wants Homer Jr not just ‘down to earth’, but literally underground.

Perhaps the most foregrounded is that of central character Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his coal miner father (Chris Cooper). Also key is Homer’s teacher, Miss Reilly (Laura Dern). Then there’s his family, his ‘Rocket Boy’ friends, and the community of Coalwood, a town literally built (and owned) by the mining company.

Set in the ‘50s, and depicting a very particular geographical and working culture, the film has a lot of nostalgic appeal. It’s a corking feel-good watch. Certain aspects of the story, and even certain characters, are ‘jazzed up’ a bit. Personally I think it’s a shame moviemakers seem to feel obliged to do such things. But maybe it does make for more compelling viewing?

But for the Rocket Boys, things are looking up.

Watching the movie made me feel I ought to read Hickam’s autobiographical Rocket Boys memoir. But, for now, the feel-good fun of the movie will suffice.

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