The Astronaut Farmer ***
Directed by Michael Polish
Written by Mark Polish and Michael Polish
Billy Bob Thornton as Charles Farmer
Virginia Madsen as Audrey "Audie" Farmer
Max Thieriot as Shepard Farmer
Jasper Polish as Stanley Farmer
Logan Polish as Sunshine Farmer
Bruce Dern as Hal
Mark Polish as FBI Agent Mathis
Jon Gries as FBI Agent Killbourne
Tim Blake Nelson as Kevin Munchak
Sal Lopez as Pepe Garcia
J.K. Simmons as Jacobson
102 Minutes(Rated PG for thematic material, peril and language)
"The Astronaut Farmer" does play it safe with a simple story, simple characters, and a simple conflict-resolution, but it looks beautiful, it is well acted, and it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside when it's over. It isn't a perfect film-oh not even close-and it has multiple scenes where you know exactly how it will pan out. But it doesn't bash the viewer over the head with minutes and minutes of speeches from the hero over the bad guys, or large emotional arcs that seem like your watching a bad soap opera. Somehow, the Polish Brothers have crafted an uplifting tale, and at the same time made it seem like I was watching something that I had never seen before.
Billy Bob Thorton plays Charlie Farmer, who has a dream of going into space. To try and build upon that dream he has been building a large rocket ship in his farmhouse, with the intention to launch when he has enough fuel. Because of the amount of money to build the rocket, Charlie is in strong debt on the house, with the bank intending to close the property. Nonetheless, Charlie doesn't let the bank stand in the way, and continues to figure out a way to launch. When he contacts a man over the Internet who may be able to get him some fuel, Charlie is caught by the FBI who become suspicious of his activities. The FDA and the government step in to see if he is building a weapon of mass destruction. (Which led to the most humorous line of "No sir, if I was building a weapon of mass destruction you wouldn't be able to find it.") Charlie also has problems with his family now, because his wife Audrey begins to feel that Charlie is putting his dreams over his family, and cares more about building the rocket and going to space than being able to feed them.
It's very clear who the good guys and the bad guys are here, there isn't any subtle character studies, and there are the standard secondary characters(including the two bumbling and inept FBI agents). But in the end, "The Astronaut Farmer" is a nice little film. It is entertaining, hopeful, and offers a nice little story about the difference between a dream and an obsession. Is Charlie hopeful, or is he just loosing his mind? It isn't for everybody, but it is decent entertainment for a Friday or Saturday night. The visuals are also worth the trip. The Polish brothers paint some beautiful portraits and some amazing landscapes of the farm-especially during a funeral scene where everything seems to be taken from afar, showing the vast farm for what it really is: a wonder to behold. Don't expect to be blown away with a new story, but for a nice script and some truly great performances(especially by Billy Bob who manages to get through the entire film without saying the "f" word. It is films that these that continue to justify his Academy Award.