October Sky

October Sky

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October Sky

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In October Sky's true story, four boys attempt to pull themselves out of their dire mid-'50s West Virginia mining town by building a rocket capable of winning the National Science Fair. Led by Jake Gyllenhaal, they spend all their free time constructing increasingly complex models, which are at first met with skepticism by their community, then increasingly well-received by all but Gyllenhaal's mine-boss father (Chris Cooper). Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, The Rocketeer), October Sky offers a strange mix of sentimentality and social criticism, sometimes mixing the two to awkward effect. It's also, despite being based on the real-life story of NASA engineer Homer Hickam, strangely formulaic and in need of forward momentum during what ought to be its climax. That said, Johnston does a fine job of conveying both Gyllenhaal's grim surroundings—pointing the finger, if a little weakly, at the negligent mining company—and his need to escape them. A moment in which Gyllenhaal looks to the sky before an elevator lurches him downward into the mine may be a bit heavy-handed, but that doesn't stop it from working. Which is sort of the movie in miniature, its ultimate, if modest, success aided greatly by a sharp young cast, the presence of such veterans as Cooper and Laura Dern, and an ability to portray the American Dream while also portraying an America of the recent past which stacked the deck against most who sought to achieve it.