Monday 23 May 2022

Movie Review: Blue Sky (1994)

An army drama, Blue Sky uneasily mixes Cold War home-front military machinations with a story of a marriage compromised by mental illness and lust.

In 1962, Major Hank Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones) is a nuclear engineer working on the US Army's nuclear bomb testing program in Hawaii. His free-spirited wife Carly (Jessica Lange) suffers from severe mood swings, partially caused by her frustration at abandoning dreams of a Hollywood career to become an army wife. Their teenaged daughters Alex and Becky are used to frequent family relocations, but are exhausted by their mother's erratic behaviour.

Hank's next assignment is in Alabama, where Carly's sensuality scandalizes the army base community and attracts the attention of commander Vince Johnson (Powers Booth). Seeking to seduce Carly, Vince dispatches Hank to witness a nuclear test in Nevada, where Hank is shocked to find civilians exposed to radiation. Upon his return he has to deal with a disintegrating family and an army cover-up.

Filmed in 1991 but shelved until 1994, Blue Sky is a patchy and uneven drama. The restless, sensual, and perhaps bipolar wife provides Jessica Lange the license to thrill, and she does not disappoint with a scintillating performance. The burden her Carly places on a straightlaced military husband is an inviting mix of embarrassing episodes, awkward patience, and marriage-saving restraint. However, the second and third acts unravel in a hurry. Infidelity is quickly followed by a clumsy attempt at redemption, all in the shadow of a poorly defined cover-up and unsteady commentary about military hawks.

The title refers to the invisible hazards of radiation, but the debate about nuclear testing is limited to Marshall supporting the switch to underground tests while the establishment is gung-ho about protocols and unconcerned when civilians are exposed to danger. The topic is too serious to be consigned to the background of a libido-driven drama, and director Tony Richardson never finds the right balance between Carly's frolics and Cold War-driven tensions.

The script by Rama Laurie Stagner, Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling is more at home within family dynamics, and supplements Carly's frequently unhinged behaviour with decent representations of a military family's life of continuous relocation. A unique type of love does glue Marshall and Carly together, while daughters Alex (Amy Locane) and Becky (Anna Klemp) provide a human face to the required resiliency of military kids. They confront their mother's mood swings with the pragmatism of rapidly evolving self-sufficiency.

Without ever quite achieving clarity of purpose, Blue Sky combines choppy patches with bright intervals.

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