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The Astronaut Farmer (2007)
Rated PG

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, and Max Thieriot

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) has always wanted to be an astronaut. In fact, he was in training to be one when his father's death forced him to pull out of contention. He never got another shot at fulfilling his dream. That is, until he took it upon himself to build a rocket in his backyard. This is not a model or a half-scale hobbyist craft; it's a full-size rocket capable of leaving Earth's gravity and orbiting the planet. That's exactly what Charles Farmer plans to do.

With the support of his wife, Audie (Virginia Madsen), and their three children, Farmer endures being labeled as the town idiot or, at best, the guy who hasn't grown to accept the inevitable reality of adulthood: letting go of your childhood dreams. When he attempts to purchase 10,000 pounds of rocket fuel, he incurs the wrath of the United States government, who believe he is a threat to national security. Their attempts to stop him become just one more obstacle for Charles Farmer to overcome in order to fulfill what he sees as his destiny.

The Astronaut Farmer's concept reminded me of an old TV series called "Salvage 1." That series, which aired in 1979, featured a junkyard owner (Andy Griffith), who built a rocket ship out of junk and flew it to the moon to salvage the equipment left by the astronauts. However, The Astronaut Farmer isn't anywhere near as campy as that series became. No one's trying to land on the moon here. All Farmer wants to do it break the bonds of gravity and circle the Earth once. The movie is played straight with a little comedic relief sprinkled in with some melodrama.

Knowing that the Polish Brothers, who were responsible for the bizarre and disappointing Northfork, were at the helm of The Astronaut Farmer didn't instill any confidence in me that this movie would be worth sitting through. Thankfully, their somewhat off-kilter screenplay and unusual character dynamics make this movie work where I believe a more straightforward approach would fail. Unfortunately, the movie tends to drag around the second act and keeps the film from being as inspiring as it might have otherwise been with a slightly truncated midsection.

Billy Bob Thornton's portrayal of Charles Farmer turns him into someone you want to see succeed in his quest to orbit the earth -- no matter how crazy his dream (or he) might seem. I was laughing with those that laughed at him, but I also wanted to see him prove them all wrong. Thornton's performance is the keystone of the movie.

The Astronaut Farmer is hardly a deep film. It's a simple feel-good picture about a guy with a dream and the guts to see it through. It might be easy to label it as "silly" or "unbelievable," but it does a good job of reminding us that dreams shouldn't be something we give up on so easily. There's nothing wrong with that at all.

Trivia: Bruce Willis makes an uncredited appearance as "The Colonel." (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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