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Is there a more American story than Homer Hickam's? Born in a dirt-poor mining town in West Virginia, Hickam's destiny was written in coal dust: He'd follow his father into the mines, mortgage himself to the company store and work until an accident or black lung disease killed him. Instead, spurred by Sputnik and America's scramble to beat the Russians at...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Is there a more American story than Homer Hickam's? Born in a dirt-poor mining town in West Virginia, Hickam's destiny was written in coal dust: He'd follow his father into the mines, mortgage himself to the company store and work until an accident or black lung disease killed him. Instead, spurred by Sputnik and America's scramble to beat the Russians at the space game, Hickam and three high school buddies turned an extracurricular interest in rockets into a ticket out of poverty. Hickam's memoir, Rocket Boys, charmed critics even as its sheer, page-turning readability prompted suspicions that his recollection had subtly bent real events to the rules of fiction. But Hickam's recollections were strongly flavored by the personalities and places of his youth; Lewis Colick's script and Joe Johnson's direction further polish and refine the material until the petty complexity and vivid specificity that makes someone else's experience (real or imagined) ring unimpeachably true are smoothed away until the story plays like the product os a top-drawer screenwriting program, from the uplifting spectacle of underprivileged kids who buck everyone's low expectations to the family clash between a rough-hewn father and the son with aspirations, and the thematic contrast between the miners' life underground and the infinite promise of the space race. Jake Gyllenhaal is charming as Hickam, as are the other young actors (Chris Owen, William Lee Scott and Chad Lindberg) who play his partners in science, but the film's most fully realized performance is Chris Cooper's. As Homer's gruff father, whose fundamental decency is buried under layers of protective toughness, Cooper brings to vivid, sometimes painful, life a knot of conflicting emotions.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: Is there a more American story than Homer Hickam's? Born in a dirt-poor mining town in West Virginia, Hickam's destiny was written in coal dust: He'd follow his father into the mines, mortgage himself to the company store and work until an accident or blac… (more)

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