In Coalwood, West Virginia, 1957, coal mining is king and no one can escape life underground. But when high schooler Homer Hickam, Jr. (Jake Gyllenhaal) sees the Soviet satellite Sputnik streak overhead, he aims for the stars and a new destiny in this incredible true story of hope, determination and triumph. With the help of his teacher (Laura Dern) and three buddies, Homer sets out to build his own rocket. How Homer overcomes seemingly impossible obstacles - poor education, a disapproving father (Chris Cooper) and a series of misfires that threaten to flatten his dreams and the town - and fulfills his vision is the launching pad for one of the most timeless, inspirational stories ever brought to the screen. "You'll laugh with it, cry with it, and go away absolutely loving it," says Robert Butler (Knight Ridder News Service) of October Sky, a universally-acclaimed achievement filled with humor, superb performances and classic rock 'n' roll.
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Based on the memoir Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam Jr., October Sky emerged as one of the most delightful sleepers of 1999--a small miracle of good ol' fashioned movie-making in the cynical, often numbingly trendy Hollywood of the late 20th century. Hickam's true story begins in 1957 with Russia's historic launch of the Sputnik satellite, and while Homer (played with smart idealism by Jake Gyllenhaal) sees Sputnik as his cue to pursue a fascination with rocketry, his father (Chris Cooper) epitomizes the admirable yet sternly stubborn working-man's ethic of the West Virginia coal miner, casting fear and disdain on Homer's pursuit of science while urging his "errant" son to carry on the family business--a spirit-killing profession that Homer has no intention of joining.
As directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer), this wonderful movie is occasionally guilty of overstating its case and sacrificing subtlety for predictable melodrama. But more often the film's tone is just right, and the spirit of adventure and invention is infectiously conveyed through Gyllenhaal and his well-cast fellow rocketeers, whose many failures gradually lead to triumph on their makeshift backwoods launching pad. Capturing time and place with impeccable detail and superbly developed characters (including Laura Dern as an inspiring schoolteacher), October Sky is a family film for the ages, encouraging the highest potential of the human spirit while giving viewers a clear view of a bygone era when "the final frontier" beckoned to the explorer in all of us. --Jeff Shannon
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