Of all the films Orion Pictures has had sitting in its vaults since it filed for bankruptcy, I can’t imagine why Blue Sky (Orion, PG-13) wasn’t fished off the shelf earlier. Completed in 1991 (shortly before the death of its director, Tony Richardson), it’s a flawed but tough-minded family drama that centers on the explosively free-spirited antics of Carly Marshall (Jessica Lange), a veteran Army wife whose reckless appetite for life gets everyone around her in trouble.
It’s 1962. When we first see Carly, she’s romping half nude on a beach, a figure of comically ripe sensuality: Brigitte Bardot as a Southern belle. An irrepressible sexpot-narcissist ruled entirely by her senses (she flirts the way that other people breathe), Carly spills over the edges of life. Wherever she goes, she causes a scandal. To her husband, Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), an engineer at work on secret underground nuclear tests, she is both wife and child, an unstable goddess. To their daughters (Amy Locane and Anna Klemp), she’s a mystery and a nuisance, overflowing with affection yet hopeless as an authority figure. Arriving at the latest in a series of dingy military-issue houses, Carly throws a tantrum, a veritable aria of rage, screaming about how sick she is of living in dumps. She goes way over the line. At the same time, Lange, without romanticizing the character’s destructive energy, makes us understand that Carly is right—that her life is stifling. This is 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. And as the patient, avuncular Hank, for whom husbandly devotion is inseparable from damage control, Jones gives a quieter, more reflective Tommy Lee Jones performance than we’ve seen in some time. His best scene is delivered entirely in a whisper.
After a while, Blue Sky becomes fairly overheated. As Hank tries to stop the Army’s cover-up of a nuclear test that contaminated civilians, Carly is seduced by the base commander (Powers Boothe), who’s part of the cover-up. The two scandals-political and personal-are braided together in a way I never found convincing. Nevertheless, the film, at its best, is like a more organic (and spirited) version of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. It captures the mad grandeur of what it’s like to live with someone whose love inspires pain because that love knows no boundaries. B -OG