"October Sky" is a teen-years biography of a NASA scientist who got his start building rockets in his basement. It 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 didn't get Oscar nomination.
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 school's nerd to pick his brain about physics. They eventually garner the curiosity of whole town and get ire of his unsupportive father.
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 axe on his shoulder, he's about to go down into the tunnels for the first time.
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, a brilliant 60-second sequence summarizes the entire picture in one flawless and powerfully symbolic sequence.
The director knows how to be subtle - Homer's mother spends her spare time painting a mural of a Beach on her drab kitchen wall, which goes almost unnoticed until a bullet pierces the window.
Jake'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.
From a film theory point of view, "October Sky" is a 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, go watch it!