“The Astronaut Farmer” starring Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen. Slated for general release February 23rd nationwide.
One of the perquisites of being a member of a space organization like the National Space Society is that often we get special invites to special events not available to the general public. This was how some of the North Texas chapter members got to see “Roving Mars” early, and one day boxes of “Zathura” goodies showed up on my doorstep for us to distribute. (We of course always plunder first…) This time around is a new space movie, just in time for the run-up to the 2007 ISDC, which is adopting a strongly ‘frontier’ theme.
Astronaut Charles Farmer had to put aside his childhood dream of spaceflight after his father killed himself and Charlie had to return home to assume the note on the family ranch. We’re introduced to Charlie while he’s out rounding up a stray calf while trying out his new (old) spacesuit. We quickly meet his kids, Shepard, Stanley, and Sunshine, as well as his wife ‘Audie’ who works at the local restaurant in the tiny one-light town of Story, TX. Or has he put aside his dream?
Because it turns out the man is building a Mercury-Atlas rocket in his barn, just like the one that sent the first Americans into orbit. The real deal, fine American milling and the works. He’s spent years building it, and is nearing completion, but the real world keeps intruding. He’s getting behind in the mortgage on the ranch. Members of the local community start questioning his sanity. When he starts sniffing into buying the rocket fuel, the Feds decide to take a look at what’s going on down in Texas.
Well, you know how us small-town Texas types are (pre-Dell Round Rock, myself), when self-important types from the coasts start getting pushy, we start getting a little…testy, or feisty, or otherwise gettin’ our hackles up. The pressures keep mounting, and how can a man have faith in himself when no one else seems to believe in him?
But he’s an American, and liberty is his birthright. He’s done no wrong. If he gives up his dreams, what will his children have to look up to? Can Charlie live with being a failure to his children the way his father was to him? Can the power of love conquer all?
This is a solid, meat & potatoes, middle-American, red-blooded, real person movie. A lot of the characters have less-than-perfect teeth. The women are pretty, but not necessarily Hollywood gorgeous. The characters have real-world problems to work through, and it reminded me in many ways of “October Sky”. This is a solid story-telling movie about a man building a rocket, not for himself or his dream, but to show his children the heights they can achieve if they are strong and work hard, one of the deepest cultural values here in the U.S. I’ll definitely be adding the DVD to the Lunar Library.
Update: Still good the second time around.
I’ll give this one a waxing three-quarter Moon.