The Astronaut Farmer

Director: Michael Polish

Although I grew up during the wake of the devastation after the crash of the US space shuttle The Challenger, like most kids, I wanted to be an astronaut. While inevitably like most that go through a “space phase,” I eventually outgrew my early ambition but for some, those childlike dreams are never forgotten. Take for example, Charlie Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) in the newest film from the Polish brothers, The Astronaut Farmer. A former Air Force officer on the fast track for NASA, Farmer found himself the victim of circumstance after a family tragedy forced him to leave the service to keep the family farm afloat. For years he’s been a devoted husband to wife Virginia Madsen (always a joy to watch) and his three children but when the film begins we learn that in addition to his domestic duties he’s not so quietly building his very own high tech rocket in the family barn, training his family to serve as mission control for his forthcoming launch. While the film does border on satire at times, I found myself completely enthralled by the sheer beauty of not only the cinematography and earnest portrayals by its cast but the refreshing lack of cynicism and the Frank Capraesque feel the film evoked which had me thinking that old filmgoer’s cliché that this is one of the films they no longer seem to make anymore, which would explain its unfortunate box office numbers and lack of success in the theatres. As Charlie finds himself getting closer to the date of his impending orbit, the government starts to intervene concerned by the vast amounts of oil and equipment being purchased by the debt-ridden farmer, obviously worried about not only the man’s psychological stability but his status as a “homeland security threat” and camps of media and lawmen being to make the outskirts of the Texas ranch their home as well. Bruce Willis reunites with Bandits costar Thornton in a nice mini-cameo as a former Air Force buddy who goes out to visit his old friend and advise on the situation and the entire supporting cast, including Tim Blake Nelson as a loyal, well-meaning small town lawyer for Thornton all do a wonderful job of making what would seem to be such an incredulous storyline utterly believable. A truly unique and moving film for the entire family—it’s only fitting that Charlie ultimately names his little rocket that could “The Dreamer” for the film does remind us of that time long before cynicism and adolescent angst set in, before we started worrying about deadlines and due-dates, when we honestly believed that as our teachers and parents told us, that we could accomplish anything.