Imagine that you're Jim Lovell in 1970. You're on top of the world. You've got a great wife, lots of friends, you love your job as an astronaut, your kids adore you, and you're set to pilot the next lunar mission due to Alan Shepherd getting sick. You and your fellow astronauts Fred Haise and Ken Mattingly are bumped up to, drum roll please, Apollo 13. Sure, Ken's going to be replaced in favor of Jack Swigert because Ken's been declared unfit to fly by the flight surgeon, something about the measles, but that's no biggie! You're Jim Lovell, darnnit! You're played by Tom Hanks, and you're going to go to the moon and walk on that thing! Not just fly around it in orbit like you did back on Apollo 8, but you're going to actually walk on the darn moon!
Wait, did you say that this mission is going to be incredibly dangerous due to an unexpected equipment malfunction, and you're going to have a heart-stopping, thrill-a-minute time trying to get back home in one piece? Uh oh, looks like stuff just got real. Good luck, Commander Lovell. You're gonna need it.
Okay, all humorous banter aside, this is a pretty darn serious film about a pretty darn serious episode in space history, and it's a pretty darn good movie. Based on the book Lost Moon by the real Jim Lovell, everything about it is expertly weaved together. It successfully captures that ye old days era that films like Forrest Gump, Secondhand Lions, and The Help and have done so very well. The acting, the set design, the pacing, the humor, the drama, they're all worthy of commendation.
Every actor in Apollo 13 is great, but special mention must be made of Tom Hanks' incredible portrayal of Jim Lovell. Hanks is every inch the A-list actor his reputation makes him out to be, and he acts the heck out of this role. He is the confident family man who is also a loyal and charismatic leader, totally selling it. Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon (a familiar face from X-Men: First Class), Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris, a personal favorite of mine, all stand out as prominently as they should.
All of this incredible acting talent serves to bolster the dramatic elements of the film. The tension and suspense is put together extremely well, with every button the characters touch making you squirm in your seat. The acting makes the character dynamics feel real and understandable, making the characters feel like they live and breathe, which they should, what with this being based on a true story and all. There's lots of great emotion, pulling at your heart strings like strings on a lute. And what wonderful music that tugging makes!
But just because this film is a drama doesn't mean it's all serious all the time. Apollo 13 has more than its fair share of humor, making me gape in laughter as often as it made me gape in shock and awe. There's this one scene where Lovell and the crew get fed up with the constant monitoring of their vital signs and stage a "mutiny" that will have everyone snickering.
Speaking of everyone, this film is not for that group. It's unsuitable for children not only for two mildly offending shower scenes, but for an abundant supply of severe profanities. I'd restrict it to viewers 15 and up. I suppose that it's rated PG-13 for a reason. That said, it has some pretty good messages about the importance of unity, perseverance, and familial bonds which make it worth watching with the older family members.
Bottom line, Apollo 13 is one of the best films I've ever seen, up there with Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Dark Knight, and Hugo. I totally recommend it for all viewers withing the suggested age range, especially persons like my dear old dad who are into space stuff and history and what-not. It's the greatest modern historical docudrama I've yet seen, though I intend to see more in the future, such as Catch Me If You Can, The King's Speech, and Captain Phillips. This film undoubtedly deserves to be listed amongst all of these previously mentioned films, and then some.
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