The Evolution Of Jake Gyllenhaal In 6 Movies

October Sky (1999)

October Sky

Notable for being Gyllenhaal’s first real lead role, October Sky sees him play Homer Hickam in this adaptation of Rocket Boys – the autobiography of Homer H. Hickam Jr. Appearing to be a standard tale of a child trying to find his own path in life, against the wishes of a stubborn parent, October Sky actually presents a complex study in parent-child relationships, thanks to the nuanced performances of Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper, who plays his father, John.

John Hickam is the superintendent of the local coal mine in Coalwood, West Virginia in 1957 – and he hopes his sons will follow him into the business. The offspring have different ideas, however, with one heading off to college on a football scholarship, and the other (Gyllenhaal) developing an interest in rocket science, having been inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1. With the support of his teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern), Homer and friends begin to build and test rockets. The young scientists meet great resistance from the town and their fathers initially, as the drama plays out against the backdrop of union tensions at the mine.

Directed by Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger), October Sky succeeds on the emotional depth provided by Gyllenhaal and Cooper. Rather than paint their characters with broad, ill-defined strokes, the two actors instead take a layered approach – creating texture and contrast in these portraits of small-town men, each trying to achieve great things in their own way. This impressive work confirmed the suspicion that Gyllenhaal could easily hold the screen in a lead role.