Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Professor Feynman (William Hurt) confronts a general

THE CHALLENGER DISASTER (2013 telefilm). Director: James Hawes.

If you're expecting to learn anything about the people who died when the Challenger exploded in 1986, be forewarned that most of their names aren't even mentioned. Instead this TV movie relates how Professor Richard Feynman (William Hurt of The Village), a physicist, was called in to sit on a panel investigating possible reasons for the disaster. Things are complicated by bureaucracy, the missile's "crazy engineering," as Feynman puts it, and the fact that NASA seems to be in conflict with the Air Force. Is it possible the former was warned not to launch the challenger missile in temperatures below 53 degrees, and did so anyway? A man named Macdonald (Robert Hobbs) comes forward to offer compelling and damaging evidence, and then disappears. Feynman, who is dealing with serious cancer issues of his own, cuts through the red tape and cover-up at a televised press conference (some of which is shown at the very end of the movie). Hurt's portrayal of the professor is perhaps overly rumpled and fussy in an attempt to add a little flavoring, but he basically gives a solid performance. Brian Dennehy [The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone] is fine as the head of the commission, as is Hobbs as Macdonald, and Bruce Greenwood [Nowhere Man] as General Kutyna.

Verdict: Small-scale but effective. ***.

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