The Astronaut Farmer

With its plodding pace and simplistic message about the importance of pursuing one's personal dream — no matter how bizarre, costly or pointless that dream may be — the twin-brother writing-directing team of Mark and Michael Polish have fashioned a dreary, downbeat FIELD OF DREAMS that will only appeal to egocentric filmmakers and irresponsible depressives. Discharged...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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With its plodding pace and simplistic message about the importance of pursuing one's personal dream — no matter how bizarre, costly or pointless that dream may be — the twin-brother writing-directing team of Mark and Michael Polish have fashioned a dreary, downbeat FIELD OF DREAMS that will only appeal to egocentric filmmakers and irresponsible depressives.

Discharged from the Air Force after the suicide of his deeply indebted father threatened the future of the family property, Texas cattle rancher Charlie Farmer (a disconcertingly synthetic-looking Billy Bob Thornton) hasn't given up on his lifelong dream of one day launching himself into space. With his degree in aeronautical engineering, some good old American know-how and a few spare parts pulled from NASA's junkyard, Charlie has constructed his very own rocket ship in his barn. While Dad's death should have taught a rational person something about debt management, Charlie (and the movie) equate the tragedy of his father's suicide with "giving up," and he clings ever more tenaciously to the dream that's made him a local laughingstock and put Charlie and his impossibly understanding wife, hardworking waitress Audie (Virginia Madsen), $600,000 in the hole. When Charlie applies for yet another loan — this time to cover the $50,000 cost of 10,000 pounds of rocket fuel he's ordered online — Charlie's application is not only denied, but he's told he's about to lose his ranch: house, barn, rocket and all. With only 30 days until foreclosure, Charlie does what any crazy person would do and throws his plan into overdrive. He pulls his 15-year-old son, Shepard (Max Theriot), and two young daughters (Jasper Polish, Logan Polish) out of school and into what he calls the "Farmer Space Program," prompting the Department of Child Services to threaten removal of the Farmer children. Equally troubling, Charlie's online correspondence with the fuel dealer has raised a red flag with the FBI, whose investigation into possible domestic terrorism puts the Farmer ranch under tight surveillance. Charlie's lawyer (Tim Blake Nelson) suggests he use the gathering media attention to win the American people's support, but while Charlie does become something of a national hero and the pride of tiny Story, Texas, his backyard science project puts the FAA on high alert. As Charlie's old Air Force buddy (an uncredited Bruce Willis) warns him, the U.S. government invests over $6 billion a year into their own space program, and will stop at nothing to put an end to Charlie's homegrown American dream.

As Charlie sets about undoing the one selfless act of his life — leaving the Air Force to save the family ranch — the film makes a few muffled noises about how the Patriot Act is crushing the freedoms that once made America great. But aside from some incoherent musings on the metaphysics of space, the Polish brothers deliver a simpleminded message that wouldn't have been out of place in Disney's CINDERELLA: Without dreams, we're nothing. True enough, but Charlie's dream is so outlandish — he builds his rocket not once but twice, the second time in a matter of weeks — that it could only be fulfilled in a ridiculous Hollywood movie. The price paid by Charlie's wife and children, however, feels too real for his fantasy to be inspiring.

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  • Released: 2007
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: With its plodding pace and simplistic message about the importance of pursuing one's personal dream — no matter how bizarre, costly or pointless that dream may be — the twin-brother writing-directing team of Mark and Michael Polish have fashioned a dreary,… (more)

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