Blue Sky is a 1994 American drama film about a nuclear coverup, and the last film by veteran filmmaker Tony Richardson. It was adapted by Rama Stagner, Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling. It stars Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, Powers Boothe, Carrie Snodgress, Amy Locane, Galynn Duggan, and Chris O'Donnell. The original music score was composed by Jack Nitzsche.
Being filmed in 1990 with production dates from 14 May 1990 until 16 July 1990, the film was completed in 1991, but because of the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures, it sat on the shelf until 1994, three years after Richardson's death on November 14, 1991. Despite this, it won critical praise and Lange won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Actress, along with the Golden Globe Award and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award.
The film is based on Rama Stagner-Blum's real life and the relationship between her parents, Clyde and Gloria Lee Moore-Stagner during the 1960s while her father was in the army. They later divorced and Gloria remarried before dying in 1982.
In 1962, Major Hank Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones) and his wife, Carly (Jessica Lange), are having marital problems because of the pressures of his job and her mental illness. Hank is a nuclear engineer who favors underground nuclear testing, an initiative code-named "Blue Sky", as opposed to above-ground, open-air detonations. Carly is a free spirit who appears to be mentally unbalanced and who is slowly being suffocated by domestic torpor and encroaching age. Her behavior embarrasses him, especially given the restrictions that prevail within a military base. Their move from Hawaii to an isolated base in Alabama alarms their oldest daughter, Alex (Amy Locane), and sends Carly into a violent tantrum.
The following day, Hank has his first meeting with base commander Colonel Vince Johnson (Powers Boothe), who rebuffs his underground testing initiative despite strong scientific support. Meanwhile, Vince's wife Vera (Carrie Snodgress) welcomes Carly and invites her to a party organized by the base officers' wives. Carly gets drunk at the party and demonstrates exotic dancing skills. Vera begs with her husband to do something about her, to which Vince agrees but says he'll have to get Hank out of the way first.
Alex starts dating Vince's son Glen (Chris O'Donnell) and on their first date finds what she takes to be a dud grenade. It explodes, alerting the whole base to their relationship and giving Vince more reason to get rid of Hank. Carly is invited by the other officers' wives to join them for a dance recital, and fills her time rehearsing for it. Hank is sent to the Nevada Test Site to supervise the first underground test under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Jennings (Michael McClendon).
During the first test, Hank notices two cowboys in the test area and attempts to have Robert abort the test, but Robert refuses, explicitly telling Hank that he is not concerned with the cowboys' health or their lives, and sends Hank back to Alabama. While Hank is away, Alex and Glen discover Vince sent Hank away just so he could have an affair with Carly.
Hank learns of the affair at the dance recital and reacts violently, after which he is given two options: have his wife and commanding officer court-martialed with him, or spend time in a psychiatric hospital receiving therapy over how the news has affected him. In debating the decision it quickly comes to light that a court martial would require bringing the incident with the cowboys out in public. Hank is eventually committed to the hospital.
The hospital keeps him so heavily sedated he is unable leave. Carly, suspecting there is a reason for this, digs through Hank's papers and finds the report about the two cowboys. She drives across the country with her daughters and finds the cowboys with visible radiation sickness. She begs them to bring their story to the press, but the cowboys refuse, so she steals one of their horses and rides into the test site, intent on repeating their experience to get the attention of the press. She is arrested, which gets the attention of the press, and Robert is forced to let her, and Hank, go.
She returns home to find Hank waiting for her, having quit that morning, and that Vince has been relieved of his duties. Hank tells her he found a new job in California, and the family happily moves.Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Marshall
Jessica Lange as Carly Marshall
Powers Boothe as Vince Johnson
Carrie Snodgress as Vera Johnson
Amy Locane as Alex Marshall
Chris O'Donnell as Glenn Johnson
Mitchell Ryan as Ray Stevens
Dale Dye as Col. Mike Anwalt
Timothy Scott as Ned Owens
Annie Ross as Lydia
Anna Klemp as Becky Marshall
Gary Bullock as Dr. Vankay
Anthony Rene Jones as Helicopter Pilot
Jay H. Seidl as Soldier on Island
David Bradford as Soldier #1
Rene Rokk as Yves French NATO Officer
Matt Battaglia as NATO Soldier
Rod Masterson as Unnamed Reporter
The film received generally positive reviews, with a fresh 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Entertainment Weekly raved about Lange, calling her turn "a fierce, brave, sexually charged performance, one of the most convincing portrayals I've seen of someone whose behavior flirts with craziness without quite crossing into it," while the New York Daily News noted, "Lange smolders, storms, rages and whimpers through Blue Sky, acting with every muscle in her body." Variety also noted, "Jessica Lange makes the most of an opportunity at a full-blown star turn as Carly Marshall. In fact, Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe are about the only other actresses one can imagine pulling off such a role as well as Lange has. [She] has the showy role, with almost unlimited opportunities to emote and strut her stuff, which she does magnificently and with total abandon." The New York Times noted, "It is a lavish role for Ms. Lange, and she brings to it fierce emotions and tact. [It] echoes [her] dazzling role in Frances. The Los Angeles Times also praised her performance, calling it "striking" and noting, "Lange's acting in Blue Sky leaves you awestruck. It's a great performance—probably her best." The Washington Post noted, "Lange [offers] a plush, platinum star turn. She is what Carly imagines she might have become if only she hadn't been a military wife: mostly Monroe with a soupcon of Bardot." The New Yorker raved, calling her turn "a stunning performance—perhaps the best of [her] remarkable career."Winner Best Actress - Academy Awards (Jessica Lange)
Winner Best Actress - Golden Globes (Jessica Lange)
Nominee Best Actress - Screen Actors Guild (Jessica Lange)
Nominee Best Actress - Chicago Film Critics Association (Jessica Lange)
Winner Best Actress - Los Angeles Film Critics Association (Jessica Lange)
Nominee Best Actress - National Society of Film Critics (Jessica Lange)
Winner Best Foreign Actress - Sant Jordi Awards (Jessica Lange)