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Sunday, October 14, 2007


Tonight Lisa and I watched The Astronaut Farmer. I didn't know too much about this movie going in other than a very basic premise, and that it stars Billy Bob Thornton. And I'd heard some good about it, so we checked it out.

The Astronaut Farmer is one of the bigger delights that I have discovered via Netflix lately. It's about Charlie Farmer (Thornton), an aeronautical engineer who was once headed into a promising career as a NASA astronaut. That was before he had to put his dreams on hold when his father died and left him the family ranch in Texas. So Charlie does what he can to keep the farm and pay off the bank, along with his wife Audie (Virginia Madsen) and three children (Max Thieriot, Jasper Polish, and Logan Polish). But Charlie Farmer hasn't given up on his dream to someday fly into space...

...so with help from his family, he begins to build a full-sized, working replica of a Mercury-Atlas rocket in his barn. Complete with manned space capsule.

The story really gets going when the FBI, FAA, CIA and every other government spook agency descend on the Farmer homestead after they get wind that Charlie is attempting to purchase ten thousand pounds of fuel for his rocket. Herein is the biggest parable of The Astronaut Farmer: that we shouldn't let anything come in the way of our dreams... much less bureacrats who have nothing better to do than to come up with ways to tell us "no you can't". At one point Charlie and his lawyer (played by Tim Blake Nelson) are talking about how the PATRIOT Act lets the government do anything they want in the name of "homeland security", and how it's quashing the freedom of average Americans. An FAA head official (J.K. Simmons in a great bit of casting) at one point tells Charlie that there'll be ballistic retaliation if he attempts to launch his homemade rocket. Even Charlie's old friend and NASA astronaut Doug Masterson (Bruce Willis in an uncredited role) tries to dissuade Charlie from his dream. And then the worthless busybodies at Child Protective Services threaten to take the Farmer children away.

But Charlie won't hear any of it. This is what he's wanted to do all of his life, and if can't have this... if he can't inspire his children with his dream... then what good is he?

It's not entirely a perfect movie (the middle can be a bit plodding) but Charlie's perseverance at being an astronaut while also trying to keep both his family and his farm solvent makes for a great lil' yarn for our times. The special effects are also rather good and as a longtime student of the space effort, I found a lot of historical and technical accuracy in this movie too (okay, there are a few things that I couldn't help noticing, but those can be forgiven for sake of drama).

The Astronaut Farmer was directed by Michael Polish, who co-wrote the script alongside his twin brother Mark Polish. Greatly recommended especially if you want a fun tale about a regular guy who tells the government to butt-out so that he can do what makes him happy.