Forty years ago, institutionalized erasure was pervasive.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Blue Sky" has an uninspired script enlivened by two extraordinary actors. Tommy Lee Jones plays U.S. Army nuclear engineer Hank Marshall, a man whose flinty, capable exterior melts every time he looks at his wife Carly (Jessica Lange). He radiates love and passion through his eyes and a smile, and we wait hopefully for the smile, knowing he may, and probably should, head for the door at any moment. Carly is a handful.

Jessica Lange's Carly is a stick of dynamite about to blow, a fragile creature who lives in fantasy to avoid the crushing reality of being an Army wife. Her volatility is perfect counterpoint to Jones' moving, subtle performance. Don't skip this one.

Hank 's insistence that the military make an honest, moral response to a nuclear accident earns him a transfer from paradisal Hawaii to the grim nowhere of a military base in Alabama. Assigned to a filthy house, Carly takes one look at "this litter box" and flies into a rage that is rooted in the deeper inner fury at being erased, controlled and confined by the U.S. Army. "It's the same as Washington and Germany and all the other places, only we're ten years older."

Anyone who ever experienced the tyranny of the Army, a corporation, a hospital or academia, 1950s style, will recoil. Director Tony Richardson captures the excruciating feel of the awful competition that is fostered by an institution with total power over its own. Forty years ago, institutionalized erasure was pervasive. Carly's despair in 1954, Tailhook today. Score zero on progress for the patriarchy.

Richardson uses the early scenes to evoke the awful contrast between the Hawaiian nirvana and a post at the end of the world. Striding naked and waist deep in the gentle surf against a brilliant blue sky, Carly waves her floating scarf in sensual joy and invitation to the helicopter that hovers above her. Aboard and looking down proudly and adoringly is husband Hank. He revels in her love of the grand gesture.

A Roman candle one moment, a pile of ashes the next, Carly disintegrates in Alabama. She is every organization woman's worst nightmare: the one who wins the attention of the boss. Hank's efforts at damage control fail, and he has a nearly fatal flaw: he simply can't resist his wife beyond a sentence or two of reprimand.

When Hank is hospitalized and drugged by the Army to ensure his silence, Carly devises a grand gesture that will bring the Army to its knees. It is ridiculous and entirely fitting. Subplots abound, and all of them showcase the abundant talent of the two leads, who get fine support from Powers Boothe and Carrie Snodgress as the commanding officer and his Stepford wife. Tommy Lee Jones and Jessica Lange lift the movie beyond its script and deliver a beautifully acted comment on the staying power of troubled love.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 486
Studio: Orion Pictures
Rating: PG-13 1h41m

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