Eric D. Snider

The Astronaut Farmer

Movie Review

The Astronaut Farmer

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C+

Released: February 23, 2007

 

Directed by:

Cast:

I kept looking at "The Astronaut Farmer" to see if there was more to it than meets the eye. What meets the eye isn't very encouraging: a simple, mildly uplifting story with little nuance to it. But it was written and directed by twin brothers Mark and Michael Polish, whose previous films ("Twin Falls Idaho," "Jackpot," "Northfork") have often employed symbolism and other literary devices. Perhaps "The Astronaut Farmer" is deeper than it appears?

Alas, I don't think that's the case. All the evidence suggests it really is just an ordinary, noncomplex film, something agreeable enough to spend 104 minutes on but not anything you'd want to hurry to see. The plot is the very picture of simplicity: Man wants something; man suffers setbacks; man resolves his problems in a way that allows for a happy ending. If you mapped out the events graphically, it would comprise a straight line, with no branches, detours, or subplots of any kind.

None of which is bad, necessarily; certainly we've seen more than our share of movies that were needlessly complicated. But "The Astronaut Farmer" is brought up short by its simplicity. The performances are nothing special, the dialogue is not particularly memorable, and the direction is merely competent. That leaves the plot as the possible saving grace ... and it's unchallenging and one-dimensional.

It sure sounds good, though: It's about a Texas man who has built a functional rocket in his barn and wants to launch it into space.

The man is Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thonton), a former NASA pilot who had to retire when his father's death left him with crippling debts. He never got a chance to go into space, but he has somehow -- the film is cagey on the details -- built a real live rocket that can be his transportation to the stars, provided he can get enough fuel to launch it.

The Farmers live on a dusty ranch in Story, Texas. Charles' wife, Audie (Virginia Madsen), is thoroughly supportive of her dreamer husband, and so are their three kids. Teenage Shepard (Max Thieriot) is training to be Charles' ground control when the launch finally occurs. Even Audie's aged father (Bruce Dern), whose lack of bloodline or romantic ties to Charles should make him the voice of reason, admires the way Charles has gotten his family not just to live together, but to dream together, too.

Of course, seeking to buy 10,000 pounds of rocket fuel sends up a lot of red flags in post-9/11 America. The FBI shows up, and so do the reporters. Soon the Farmers are at the center of a nationwide media circus, with regular folks hoping he'll launch the rocket while the FAA looks for reasons to stop him.

Launching yourself into space should be left to the professionals, they say, "they" being led by an FAA official named Jacobson (J.K. Simmons). The government doesn't own the air or the atmosphere, say Charles and his lawyer/friend (Tim Blake Nelson).

"How do we know you aren't constructing a WMD?" they ask.

"If I was building a weapon of mass destruction, you wouldn't be able to find it," Charles says, in one of the handful of political statements that have been awkwardly wedged into the screenplay.

The movie is about taking control of your own destiny, and about chasing your dreams. Those are fine things for a movie to be about. This movie just feels like it needs to be about something more, too. It has heart and soul but no depth.

Grade: C+

Rated PG, scattered profanity, a little mild violence

1 hr., 44 min.

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This item has 12 comments

  1. Steve says:

    "...pilot who had to retire when his father's death left him with crippling debts." So, the best way to deal with sudden, crippling debt is to stop working? Did he have more money as a retiree than as a member of the workforce? Am I missing something?

  2. b says:

    Apparently he retired to become a farmer because our astronauts are so underpaid they make less than farmers. It seems to have worked for him, because once he became a farmer he was able to afford the millions of dollars it would cost to build a rocket.

  3. David Mandragora says:

    That's stupid. This movie sounds stupid. I hope it bombs in the box office and all of its DVDs get the ET mass-burial-in-the-desert treatment.

  4. Karen Stout says:

    Crud. I was hoping for a better review, because the initial premise seemed so dumb, I figured there had to be more to it.

    I think I'll just watch my "October Sky" DVD instead. At least that stuff really happened.

  5. Roisin says:

    Billy Bob Thornton as another NASA worker who never got the chance to go into space? Anyone else remember him in Armageddon?

  6. John Doe says:

    Maybe the point of this movie is to show how incompetent the government is. When he lauches after setback #1, the government has no idea what is going on until it is too late. How dumb would you have to be to let that happen? Also, what if he his rocket crashed and killed someone? Not so "feel good" is it then?

    Also, where did he get millions of dollars to do all this? Dumb movie. I'm glad it flopped at the box office. The public got it right for once.

  7. card says:

    I don't think he had to retire because his father's death left him with crippling debts. I thought that he retired because he couldn't emotionally handle his father's death and wanted to be there for them. I got the impression that it was less of a financial decision and more of an emotion/psychological reason.

    I didn't think the movie was terrible, but I don't think it was that great, either.

  8. Billy Bob Thorton says:

    I just flew out to see the in-laws and this movie was playing on the plane. For anybody who wonders what is meant by a "C move” this is the perfect example. It will have absolutely no impact on your life. I honestly believe a computer algorithm wrote this plot:

    “Billy Bob Thornton + space stuff + dead grandpa + good old boy farmer = profit!”

    How in the world did they get two of the best actors in the world to be in this movie? I can't decide if it was community service for a D.U.I or if they had boat payments.

    There was only one surprise in this whole move:

    *** SPOILER ALERT ***
    It's called "The Astronaut Farmer" not because he grows astronauts, but because his last name is farmer and he wants to be an astronaut.
    *** End of Spoiler ***

  9. rooster1056 says:

    If you cynics are looking for something deep, why don't you go watch 2001 and ruminate over it. Every now and then, maybe you should just relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy a movie for an escape.

    It's all about the American Dream, but I suppose that's a little too superficial for your types.

    I will give you this much. October Sky was excellent, based on a true story, and it was a true example of the American Dream. When I was a kid, I did the same thing -- I set out to take a project to the International Science Fair and accomplished it -- a challenge that is only realized by a relative handful of high school students each year.

    If you weren't bright enough to see Astronaut Farmer for what it is before going to see it, I pity your cynical simple-mindedness. I was taught a long time ago, that if you don't have something decent to say about something, just keep your BIG MOUTH SHUT.

  10. Blank Frank says:

    Those "this movie is about hope and dreams and sunshine and joy SO SHUT UP LOSERS" responses always amuse me.

    Points for a pissy reply in which everything is spelled everything correctly and phrased coherently, though. That's a rarity.

  11. CharlieTuna says:

    The problem with comments like "this is about the American Dream" is that the story isn't PLAUSIBLE.

    Why didn't Billy Bob just build a missile defense shield and save us from the Russians?

    I was trying to watch the movie as a metaphor, but couldn't immerse myself in the story.

  12. molly says:

    god you people suck. have you looked up 'fantasy'or 'fiction' in Websters recently.

    kick back, relax, its a believable as Willow, Men in Black and all the other fantasies..or do you really think there are aliens everywhere?

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