The Astronaut Farmer (PG) ★★½

Review Date: February 23rd, 2007

Billy Bob Thornton finally sheds his Bad Santa-ness to play an everyday hero in the uplifting, if slightly cornball, family drama The Astronaut Farmer.


In the vein of Field of Dreams, Astronaut Farmer is about building the seemingly impossible. Thankfully, in this case, it’s simply a rocket in the barn, not a ballpark in a cornfield where ghosts of baseball heroes past can play the game. That is a bit far-fetched. Instead, we meet Charles Farmer (Thornton), a man who was once on track to be an astronaut but was forced to leave NASA to save his family farm. He still wants to go into space, however, and so sets out to build a rocket inside his barn. By the time the movie starts, the rocket is pretty much put together so we aren’t burdened with how he gets his supplies. All Charles needs now is 10,000 pounds of fuel, which shoots up a big red flag with the government--a government that now considers Charles a threat--while the media look at him as a big story. But no matter the odds, nothing can deter Charles from his dream to break through the atmosphere and orbit the earth.


It’s refreshing to see Thornton as a loving father who wants to inspire his kids rather than make them go get him another beer. Of course, Charles Farmer isn’t all sweetness and light—he’s an obvious eccentric whose obsession to launch into space effects the entire family—and it’s definitely a role right up Thornton’s alley. Virginia Madsen does an admirable job as the loving and supportive wife who nonetheless puts her foot down when things get out of hand, while Bruce Dern plays the grizzled but equally supportive father-in-law. There’s also a supportive lawyer, played by Tim Blake Nelson. In fact, besides the big evil NASA chief (J.K. Simmons) and two bungling FBI agents (Mark Polish and Jon Gries), everyone supports Charles in his crazy dream. How could he fail?


From the writing-directing team of Michael and Mark Polish (Northfork), Astronaut Farmer is pure old-school—an unassuming throwback to those feel-good movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s. In fact, Thornton told he considers this his “Jimmy Stewart” movie. While the Polish brothers based Charles Farmer on their own eccentric father and obviously harbor their own boyhood dreams of being an astronaut, the guys still follow a nice and simple formula, finding some good actors to carry it out and adding cool visual effects when they can. Yes, the more cynical moviegoer may look at Astronaut Farmer as completely improbable and trite. But those willing to be taken back to a simpler time--when movies were about walking out triumphant--should find watching Astronaut Farmer a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.