Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Astronaut Farmer

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (Michael Polish, 2007)

Going to outer space is a dream for many, but Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) is one of the few determined to achieve that goal. Family issues forced him to leave an astronaut training program when he was younger. Nevertheless, Farmer, a name befitting the Texas rancher, refuses to abandon his desire to orbit the planet. In THE ASTRONAUT FARMER he designs a rocket and capsule, obtains scrap parts from the junkyard, and tinkers on the project year after year in his barn. He even has a space suit that was otherwise going to be discarded.

Farmer's folly is a source of amusement for the townsfolk, none of whom really think he can launch himself into space but encourage him anyway. Government officials aren't so tickled when they learn of his plans. His attempt to purchase thousands of gallons of rocket fuel alerts them to this dangerous undertaking. Naturally, they refuse Farmer's request to shoot himself into the atmosphere, not that this space cowboy needs the government's seal of approval.

The situation becomes more urgent when the bank seeks to collect on the loans that have kept Farmer's dream possible. Seeing that the window to fulfill his lifelong ambition is closing, he steps up his work with the help of his family. Wife Audrey (Virginia Madsen) has been supportive throughout their relationship. Sure, Farmer has had his head in the clouds and beyond. It's a quality she likes in him, but Audrey questions his priorities when it comes out that they may lose their home.

With THE ASTRONAUT FARMER writer-director Michael Polish and his co-writer brother Mark continue a foray into American mythmaking that began with NORTHFORK. THE ASTRONAUT FARMER'S alternative history of rugged American individualism and ingenuity opens on a shot of Farmer dressed in his astronaut gear and riding a horse, the spitting image of the nation's pioneering past and future.

At a time when corporations and politicians seem to have the power over the little guy, an inversion of the country's founding principles, the Polish brothers fire back with a regular hero whose pursuit of happiness is an affront to the ruling monoliths. Farmer denies to recognize the government's self-proclaimed authority over the heavens and exploits corporate sponsorship and media coverage to his advantage to propel his mission.

Thornton's the go-to guy for this brand of offbeat average joe. He charms and inspires with down-home humility and confidence. Thornton's performance says that this whole idea is crazy but asks wouldn't it be great if a good ol' boy could conduct a space launch with his son just like they might make a soap box derby racer?

This modern fairy tale may stretch the limits of believability, although more from a crucial decision Audrey makes than the aerospace stuff, but it's the kind of story we'd like to think could be true. Shoot for the stars and maybe, just maybe, you can reach them.

Grade: B-

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Mark! I've seen the trailers at the theater, and wondered if it was worth taking my little people to see. I think we'll go. :-) K-