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The Astronaut Farmer
The right filmmakers, the right material
The Astronaut Farmer
Billy Bob Thornton Stars in "The Astronaut Farmer".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $7,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

August 28th, 2006: When he discovers that he is in danger of losing his farm, a NASA astronaut (Billy Bob Thornton) decides to give up his dream job to try and save his home. With time, however, he begins to miss his former profession and eventually finds himself reaching for the skies once again. Using only the tools available to him in his barn, he begins to construct a rocket that will actually be able to leave the earth’s atmosphere. Of course, his activities arouse the interests of his neighbors, who immediately assume he is crazy. The media soon sniff out a good story and begin covering his progress. The government, on the other hand, approaches the situation with far more suspicion and considers him a potential threat that may need to be stopped.

What to Expect: With this film, Warner Bros. is taking a bit of a risk on brothers Mark and Michael Polish, who have not been able to live up to the hype following their first memorable feature, Twin Falls Idaho. Earlier this month, the twins signed a two-picture deal with the studio and already seem to have future projects in mind. Loot will be a heist movie that, like most Polish features, will be set in Middle America. In How Time Flies, the brothers will observe what happens when time travel becomes a commodity available to the general public. Both ideas sound very promising, but lets not forget about The Astronaut Farmer, which isn’t short on potential by any means.

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This latest project bares a striking resemblance in thematic content to the brothers’ previous feature, the relatively unknown Northfork. The film told an ambitious tale of a town’s “evacuation” from an oncoming flood. It was full of stunning imagery and at times was able to find poignancy and pathos in the smallest of moments, but the intermittent brilliance was not prevalent throughout the film. In my opinion, the movie may have been too ponderous, too self-aware, too deliberate in its delivery, and ultimately too distracting. The characters were often in a trance-like state and spoke mostly in metaphors. Essentially, the film was largely symbolic for that great beyond, but the story lost meaning due to its tedious redundancy. When the actors, the design, the cinematography, and the language all serve simply to push a metaphor and do little to advance any other aspect of the story, the action becomes meaningless. In the end, the movie simply did not contain enough pleasures to survive its dullest moments.

At the very least, Northfork is a beautifully shot drama. There is no shortage of long takes or long shots that capture the vast, stretching landscape of the Midwest and The Astronaut Farmer will probably follow in the same tradition. It was shot in New Mexico, which is a state full of those wide-open spaces that the Polish brothers delight in so much. Their static and indelible cinematography in Northfork often caused me to watch the film in a way that I would look at a painting. Unfortunately, cinema is its own medium and Northfork should have been less like a still picture and more like a fully-fledged motion picture. Hopefully, with The Astronaut Farmer, the brothers will be able to stay away from that, although it is quite obvious that the story presents an opportunity to return to similar themes of liberation.

With quirky ideas, but somewhat dull execution, I’ve always seen the Polish brothers as a duo that was only a sense of humor away from being the next Coen brothers. They appear to have similar tendencies toward absurd stories, but the Polishes push it a bit further into fantasy and forget to bring that same sense of joy in telling their tales. Fortunately, The Astronaut Farmer has been described as a satirical comedy and features a cast that is likely to bring out the playful nature of the material.

If you need to lighten your film up a bit with an actor that will give you anything but the standard performance, look no further than Billy Bob Thornton. The actor has two Coen brothers’ movies to his credit so perhaps this is why he seems like a natural fit for the material. A little bit of ‘bad Santa’ may work favorably for the Polishes. Let’s not forget that the combination of Billy Bob and the Midwest setting is like French Fries and ketchup. The Astronaut Farmer will also reunite Thornton with his Bandits and Armageddon costar, Bruce Willis, who will play the protagonist’s former NASA colleague. It will be nice to see the two take on similar roles that they had in the latter film, but under far less pompous and laughable circumstances. Oscar nominated actress Virginia Madsen (Sideways), will portray the farmer’s wife and the Oscar nominated Bruce Dern will play her father. Both are very distinct personalities, who should be able to add some flavor in supporting roles.

In Conclusion: They say that comedy is done in long shot, while tragedy is shown in close-up. Northfork defied those rules and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it felt miscalculated. The good news is that the story in The Astronaut Farmer is comedic in nature so the Polish brothers need not change anything about their delivery. The pace, the long shots, and the long takes should feel less like dull, drawn out sequences and give the film another dimension of quirky, but sophisticated wit. It’s like as if all this time the Polish brothers have had a hammer and a screw and with The Astronaut Farmer, someone just handed them a nail. The material seems like an ideal fit for the form. Of course, the Polish brothers deserve all the credit since they wrote the screenplay themselves. There is actually a slight possibility here that audiences might warm up to this eccentric yarn. Certainly, the clever casting shouldn’t hurt.

Similar Titles: Northfork, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Happiness
February 23rd, 2007 (wide)
July 10th, 2007 (DVD)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Michael Polish

Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, Tim Blake Nelson, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Kimbrough

Total: 40 vote(s).


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Rated PG for thematic material, peril and language

104 min





The Astronaut Farmer at RottenTomatoes.com

The Astronaut Farmer at AskMen.com

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