Sunday, March 29, 2009

Film Review: 'The Astronaut Farmer' – 8.0/10

Film Review: Drama • Adventure (2006)
'The Astronaut Farmer'
Written by Joé McKen on Sunday, March 29, 2009

Will it work this time? Find out when you watch Warner Bros. Pictures' 2006 inspirational tale, The Astronaut Farmer.

The Astronaut Farmer is the simple story about a man who just wants to go to Space. It's his dream, it's what he's always wanted to do, and it's what his life has always been throwing obstacles at to try and prevent him from accomplishing his dream.

Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) used to be an astronaut-in-training at NASA, following a stellar career as a jet pilot, when the tragedy of his father's suicide got him discharged from the program before he was able to complete it. Now obsessed with fulfilling his dream, he decides to build his very own rocket (a replica of the historic Mercury-Atlas rocket), using his family as a team and sucking up all his and their assets into his project. However, soon the bank decides he's overdue enough and prepares to foreclosure on his home; as a result, Charles now brings his whole family in, even grabbing his children out of school for extra 'manpower', something his wife Audie (Virginia Madsen) is none too pleased about. Oh, and his 'ground control' support? His own 15-year-old son, Shepard (Max Thieriot).

Of course, eventually this will have to grab the attention of the undesirables. In this case, that's a combination of the FBI, attracted by his purchase of 10,000 pounds of rocket fuel (yeah, like that could ever have gone incognito), and the FAA, curious and threatened by this 'loon''s projects of building his own spacecraft.

Soon however, assets and support starts to run dry, right when the rocket is very nearly finished: they're out of money, he's about to lose his home and moral support, and enemies are taking shots at him from every direction from legal to governmental. Will Farmer's dream be able to survive such brutal onslaught? Or will he be forced to give up his primary motivation in his life?

The Astronaut Farmer is a very sweet and inspirational story, that much cannot be denied. Who hasn't now and then entertained dreams of blasting off into Space and leaving the sorry world behind, if only for a moment? Naturally, dreaming about it and actually doing it are two entirely different universes, something this movie illustrates very well in my opinion as Farmer undergoes pressures that make one wonder how he didn't crack earlier under the strain. However, it's also a fairly dangerous idea at the same time; sucking his family's money and resources dry to entertain his relatively selfish dream, pulling his kids out of school, and even being declared a threat (what if that big unseen rocket is actually a WMD? 'If I were building a Weapon of Mass Destruction, you wouldn't be able to find it,' Farmer says once, none too wisely). Yes, it's empirical that one must follow their dreams in life, it's what keeps us going, but I do think one must find a balance between selfish and risky dreams, and the welfare of the people around them – particularly once they've founded a family. Perhaps Farmer should have waited until he completed his dream before building his rocket. Too bad.

The special effects are decent yet nothing extraordinary: the CGI, though apparent, does its job well. The score, from the sadly-underused Stuart Matthewman, is one of the prettiest and most inspirational scores I've heard in a long time; it has a dreamy, fantastical air to it that truly conveys the essence of the story with remarkable clarity and emotion. I still can't get it out of my head, even after three days since I watched the film, though this isn't a complaint.

The acting is very solid, with excellent performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Max Thieriot and Virginia Madsen; there's also a surprise visit by Bruce Willis as an old friend and 'mentor' to Farmer at NASA (three guesses which movie Willis was in inspired his being here in this movie?).

All I can say about the movie and its plot is that after catching only brief glimpses of that damned rocket for two-thirds of the movie, it's high time we got to see the baby in action – whether it ultimately ends in success or failure, or both, is up to the viewer to find out for him/herself. This is a very pretty story and deserves at least a rental. Some will love it, some will hate it. It all depends on how the movie's message and plot is interpreted, I suppose.

For giving us a tale of wonder and heartwarming despite some little problems here and there, I give Michael Polish's The Astronaut Farmer 8.0 astronaut helmets out of 10.

Charles Farmer: Billy Bob Thornton • Shepard Farmer: Max Thieriot • Audrey 'Audie' Farmer: Virginia Madsen
Crew & Credits Director(s): Michael Polish • Writer(s): Mark Polish, Michael Polish • Original Score: Stuart Matthewman
General Information
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures • Released: February 23, 2007 • Running Time: 104 mins • Budget: US$13 million • Rated: PG


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