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'Blue Sky'

By Kevin McManus
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 16, 1994


Tony Richardson
Tommy Lee Jones;
Jessica Lange;
Powers Boothe;
Amy Locane
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent
Best Actress

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"Blue Sky," a lovely little movie, tells the story of Hank Marshall, military officer and abused husband. Hank's tormentor, Carly, assaults him not with flying fists or kitchen cutlery but with scandalous behavior -- angry fits about the family's humble lifestyle and shameless flirtations with other men. The couple's two daughters, meanwhile, worry about dad as they struggle to make sense of mom.

Where's the loveliness? It's in Hank's powerful will to keep his family together. As played by Tommy Lee Jones, the guy's a genuine hero: He won't give up on Carly.

When Carly (Jessica Lange) goes publicly ballistic, as she does early on in the story, Hank uses soothing words and the force of his presence to pacify her. As directed by Tony Richardson (who died after making this film), it's an amazingly touching sequence, an exhibition of real manliness, as opposed to the cartoon-style machismo so prevalent in movies today.

Jones alone makes "Blue Sky" worth watching. But there's much else to savor, most notably Lange's portrayal of a self-absorbed, early-fortyish woman. Between her outbursts she persuasively demonstrates her love for Hank.

The story is set in 1962, at an Alabama Army base where nuclear engineer Hank has just arrived with his family. Carly, a gorgeous movie-star manquee, professes to feel stalked by old age. So she overcompensates, dressing in clingy outfits and sashaying around the base.

Her act is painfully familiar to her family. But to Hank's commanding officer, Vince Johnson (Powers Boothe), it's got irresistible appeal.

In a jiffy, the CO has pulled a few strings and gotten Hank shipped out of town on a two-week assignment. While Hank is away, Johnson seduces Carly. The lovers are caught in the act by Carly's older daughter (Amy Locane), who later forces Carly to call Hank and admit her infidelity. When Hank gets home, he's goaded by Johnson, and Hank's retaliatory punch gets him thrown in jail.

The plot gets a bit screwy here, with Hank landing in a psych ward and his wife and daughters ending up in the New Mexico desert on the eve of an A-bomb test.

But these and the few other contrivances of scriptwriter Rama Stagner are forgivable. Stagner's dialogue is consistently crisp and intelligent, and her main characters ring true. Above all, the heart of the film -- Hank and Carly's uncommon love story -- beats strongly throughout.

BLUE SKY (PG-13)he violence is mild and the sexual situations aren't explicit, but there's an extended shot of Lange's unclothed torso.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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