Apollo 13 Review
Back in the sixties and seventies the great space race was at full throttle. The Russians, with their MacGuyver-like innovation and ingenuity, had managed to keep pace with their rich opponents for some time, but by 1970 and the launch of Apollo 13, the big bucks had clearly won out. Money does not necessarily stop everything from going wrong, however, as was evidenced by the several Apollo disasters.
Apollo 13 basically tells the true tale of three men desperately trying to get home. Somewhat similar in concept to the recently remade Flight of the Phoenix, we get to see the stuff that really makes men heroes. Stuck out in the middle of space in a damaged ship with a dwindling oxygen supply, it is up to three men (and a base-full of intellect back at Houston, working feverishly to solve their problems) to pull off a miracle and get home.
Although fashioned into a look at the lives of the three men on the run up to and through the disaster, the movie is almost like a documentary of what happened, which shows you just how gripping the bare truth can be at times. Director Ron Howard (the man behind both Backdraft and the underrated alternative western The Missing) manages to capture the real spirit and drive on this fateful mission but the cast are the real stars of the show.
Now normally, I am not Tom Hanks' greatest fan. Once his enjoyable wide-eyed goofy antics (like in Big) dried up and he decided to take himself far too seriously, I lost interest in his work. Worse still, Hollywood thought he could simply do no wrong and every film he made seemed to get him Oscar attention - even though almost none of them warranted it. However in the midst of all this, his portrayal of Jim Lovell, the lead astronaut on Apollo 13, is a remarkably understated and solid effort. Of course, he is helped no end by a superb supporting crew, with the underrated Kevin Bacon and the underused Bill Paxton playing, respectively, fellow astronauts Jack Swigert and Fred Haise.
Kevin Bacon has given some very different but nonetheless reliably good performances over his film career, from the brilliant Stir of Echoes to the harrowing Murder in the First, he has always played characters with a certain edginess to them. And even here he is the darkest of the three heroes, giving the whole drama a more realistic feel. To balance up the equation at the other end we get another light-hearted performance by Bill Paxton (Aliens, Twister) who gets to show a much broader acting range than his characters usually permit him to.
The film is grounded by the earth-side characters, played by the excellent Ed Harris and the reliable Gary Sinise. Harris is on scene-stealing top form as Gene Krantz, the head of mission control, yet another standout role to add to his superb résumé that includes The Abyss and The Rock, with noteworthy cameos in films like The Firm. Gary Sinise is also a great little character actor and after mainstream roles in films like Ransom and Mission to Mars, he was ideal for the moody and grim CSI derivative CSI: New York that he can currently be seen in on the small screen. He's a little underused, but nevertheless a great choice here as Ken Mattingly, the astronaut who didn't make the mission and subsequently has to help them get home from the confines of Mission Control. And although this is mainly a boys-only affair, Kathleen Quinlan (from the vastly underrated sci-fi horror Event Horizon) should not be overlooked as Jim Lovell's strong and supportive wife, Marilyn.
Apollo 13 is a decent piece of cinematic history, not necessarily because of the filmmaking or even the great performances, but because it paints an accurate picture of truly amazing real-life events. Because the story of these three heroic astronauts is worth regaling for decades to come, the film itself becomes the best medium that we have to absorbing it by. So if by some chance you haven't yet seen Apollo 13 then sit back and watch a piece of history unfold.