This tale becomes a real white-knuckler that manages also to capture the best of our national essence without waving the flag.
Things don't get much better than "Apollo 13." In the sure hands of director Ron Howard, several dozen actors hit pure notes in capturing the essence of the American spirit without being sentimental, mawkish, or melodramatic. That's a triumph, considering what might have been done with the subject of a military program in pusuit of public relations.
When John F. Kennedy assumed the burden of playing catch-up with the Russians by announcing in 1960 that America would put a man on the moon within a decade, NASA delivered with Neil Armstrong and his crew in 1969. By the following year, when Apollo 13 lifts off for follow-up work on the moon, the feel of anticlimax envelops the mission. In crass dismissal of the effort, the networks refuse to cover it. What could match last year's feat?
What more than matches it is a three-pronged probe into the American psyche. Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) rocket into space on the ill-fated mission that will suddenly rivet national attention when an oxygen tank explodes and puts them in jeopardy. They are trapped in a freezing tank that is filling slowly with lethal carbon dioxide.
On the ground, Mission Control struggles to save them. In superb confirmation of American resourcefulness, Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) and the ground team devise a way to put a square peg in a round hole with cannisters and duct tape that are already aboard the ship. They hand the crew a million-to-one solution. Even after Mattingly solves the oxygen problem, the heat shield and parachutes loom as probable catastophes.
All this unfolds in the early days of the celebrity culture, when the media begins to hound the victims of catastrophe, sharks to blood, the worse the better. It also reveals the paradoxical American reverence for a single life. As much as Americans can kill each other on the highways at the rate of 50,000 a year and shoot each other by the hundreds in schools, when one life, or three in this case, jumps into public jeopardy, the collective national psyche heaves up as savior.
And they did it by talking simply and directly. These astronauts would surely have died if their fate had lain in the self-righteous, self-absorbed verbosity of the 90s. If the images are of puffy space suits and weightless games, the stuff of it is courage and resourcefulness.
The extraordinary rescue is delivered without a false note by Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, and a fine supporting cast. Tom Hanks simply has a direct line into the souls of the characters he plays. Kathleen Quinlan conveys beautifully the twin mandates of a 60s woman: support and perform.
In these talented hands, this tale becomes a real white- knuckler that manages also to capture the best of our national essence without waving the flag. It's moving, and it's good.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : Universal
Rating : PG
Running Time: 2h20m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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