Grounded in reality

Farmer suggests the government’s no friend of dreamers

Untitled Document Years have passed since Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) dropped out of the astronaut program to care for his ailing father, but the former NASA pilot’s dream of soaring into outer space never faded. Though his neighbors in Story, Texas, view him as nothing more than a harmless eccentric, there’s no question in Farmer’s mind that he will one day travel into the stratosphere. After all, he’s building a rocket in his barn. Nobody outside his circle, however, notices until he attempts to buy 10,000 pounds of rocket fuel. Before you can say “Lift-off!” the feds descend on Farmer’s farm, and it looks as if he’ll be lucky to even leave the state, let alone the planet. Of course, Farmer’s determined to complete the mission, and a good chunk of The Astronaut Farmer is devoted to his fighting the bureaucracy and raising enough money to keep the wolves from the barn door. Thornton perfectly displays the sort of quiet can-do spirit that movie heroes of this sort require, showing an unwavering devotion to his beliefs that is admirable, if impractical, in this day and age. The actor dominates the film, which proves to be a double-edged sword because his co-star, the talented Virginia Madsen, is given little to do other than play the supportive wife. Double-edged, too, is the message The Astronaut Farmer sends. On one hand, it’s a Frank Capra-esque celebration of American optimism, awash in iconic imagery sure to evoke warm, patriotic feelings, yet the film depicts an American government willing to crush the civil liberties and dreams of its citizens. Too bad that’s the part that’s real.

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