Ron Howard’s best film is honest to a fault. Apollo 13 has the feel of a stylized documentary, colorized and embroidered to hammer home vitally American themes: ingenuity, determination, and laconic wit in the face of doomsday odds.
The plot couldn’t be simpler. Apollo 13 was an afterthought lunar mission; the epic moon landing occurred the year before. Few paid attention. Midway into the flight an explosion cripples the craft. The three astronauts, Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Frank Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigart (Kevin Bacon), must apply outer space first aid. Houston control scrambles a plan and mission director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) and astronaut Ken Mattingly, Gary Sinise, (shunned for the mission because of health concerns) help center the drama. Hanks, Paxton, and Bacon are riveting, but the best and most ethical performance comes from Harris, whom Howard uses as a moral compass. Superb filmmaking.