There is just something about outer space. It has captured the human consciousness in an amazing way, and although our repeated trips to space seem to garner less and less attention, the notion of actually taking a trip to space remains a wondrous fantasy for many. Perhaps no film in recent memory has helped us conceive of the real life excitement and danger of travelling to space than Ron Howard's 1995 epic, Apollo 13. Based on a true story, and the non-fiction book by astronaut Jim Lovell who lived the story, Apollo 13 finds Tom Hanks playing the role of Lovell. It was Lovell who was in command of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
Howard's film doesn't center itself on the cause of the issue (although it is mentioned briefly at the end of the movie), but rather the outgrowth of the rupture of one of the oxygen tanks. The causes take a backseat to the real issue at hand – how to get the astronauts home. It makes for a film which, despite the outcome being known (Lovell is credited during the opening titles), still manages to be an edge-of-your seat thriller.
Although Tom Hanks was not nominated for an Oscar for this role – he had just won back-to-back Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump – he gives a spectacular performance as Lovell, and which very likely ought to have garnered him a nomination at minimum. Somehow, within a small metal box, Hanks is able to express wonder and amazement at where he is, as well as momentary terror about what has befallen them. Even fearful, however, Hanks' Lovell remains in control of his crew, even if he cannot control his situation.
Hanks isn't the only person to give a wonderful performance in the film. Joining Lovell in space are Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon). Both Bacon and Paxton deliver exceptional performances, even if, in some of Haise's more fearful moments, he does come off sounding an awful lot like Pvt. Hudson in Aliens. Bacon's Swigert, who was not actually meant to be a part of the team, is the man who executed the fateful command to stir the oxygen tanks, which is what caused the explosion. As someone who wasn't supposed to be onboard the ship anyway, someone who hadn't been training for an extended period of time with Lovell and Haise, Swigert was the odd man out on the ship at takeoff, a position that only becomes harder after the explosion. Bacon does an excellent job at portraying the myriad emotions Swigert had to be feeling at the time – everything from joy at his first trip into space to horrific guilt at the thought that maybe, just maybe, he had done something wrong.