Based on the incredible true story of NASA flight engineer José Hernández, “A Million Miles Away” follows him and his close-knit family of determined migrant farmworkers on an awe-inspiring journey spanning decades. Their odyssey takes them from a remote Mexican village to the expansive vistas of California’s San Joaquin Valley and, ultimately, more than 200 miles above Earth within the International Space Station.
|Release Date||15 September 2023|
|Cast||Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Garret Dillahunt, Eric Johnson, Veronica Falcón, Michelle Krusiec, Sarayu Blue, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Bobby Soto, Ashley Ciarra|
|Director||Alejandra Márquez Abella|
|Writers||Bettina Gilois, Hernán Jiménez, Alejandra Márquez Abella|
|Producers||Mark Ciardi, Campbell G. McInnes|
|Production||Amazon Studios, Redrum, Select Films|
“A Million Miles Away” is a deeply inspirational film that beautifully captures an extraordinary narrative of astronomical achievement in the face of formidable challenges. It’s a significant work that serves as a testament to hard-earned representation.
However, while portraying the life of José Hernández, who risked everything to fulfill his lifelong dream of venturing into space, “A Million Miles Away” occasionally plays it safe. Director and co-writer Alejandra Márquez Abella presents José Hernández, portrayed with unwavering determination by the charismatic Michael Peña, as a consistently kind and resolute character. This portrayal remains consistent throughout the film’s two-hour runtime.
This straightforward approach may be attributed to the film’s source material, Hernández’s memoir, which prominently features the term “Inspiring Story” in its title. The intention behind this approach may be to make the movie accessible to the widest possible family-friendly audience, which is certainly an understandable goal. However, in recounting Hernández’s improbable journey into space in such a conventional manner, the film at times feels tethered to the ground.
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The story begins with a seven-year-old José (played by the endearing Juanpi Monterrubio) traveling with his family from Michoacán, Mexico, to California in the late 1960s. There, they labor in towns like Stockton and Salinas, and Abella masterfully establishes an engaging narrative rhythm while introducing the family and the cadence of their lives. José faces teasing at school due to his accent, but his exceptional aptitude for math quickly sets him apart as the brightest among his peers. A compassionate teacher (touchingly portrayed by Michelle Krusiec), who witnesses transient students like José seasonally, recognizes his potential and encourages his family to stay.
From this point, “A Million Miles Away” adheres to the familiar structure of a chronological biopic. We witness José’s graduation from the University of the Pacific with an engineering degree and his encounter with the woman who becomes his wife and the mother of their five children (Rosa Salazar). José steadily ascends the ranks as an engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, despite enduring overt racism from colleagues. His unwavering determination leads him to repeatedly apply to the NASA space program, facing rejection year after year, until the pivotal moment when he finally succeeds.
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Salazar delivers a standout performance as Adela, the family’s rock, imbuing the character with grounded authenticity and a delightful comedic timing. However, Peña’s portrayal of Hernández over a protracted period is somewhat distracting due to the actor’s age, as he is in his late forties. The film offers minimal hair and makeup adjustments to believably depict Hernández as a recent college graduate in his early twenties. In this regard, it falls short of the transformative standards set by Robert De Niro in “The Irishman.”