Billy Bob Thornton has gone on record as saying that The Astronaut Farmer is his "Jimmy Stewart" film. That is probably the best way to describe the film.
Thornton plays Charles Farmer, a member of NASA who was forced to retire but never gave up on his dream of wanting to go into space. Now he lives on a ranch in Texas with his wife (Virginia Madsen) and their three children. Farmer has put everything he has into building a state of the art rocket which he has built in his barn. Piece by piece. Bolt by bolt. Farmer assembled his own rocket in hopes that it will put him into Earth's orbit. Things go completely under the radar until Farmer tries to buy rocket fuel. Then the FBI breaks down his door and a hornet's nest of trouble explodes into Charles Farmer's life. Will he be able to launch? Will he finally be able to prove to himself and his family that he isn't crazy for wanting to build the rocket?
I am a bona-fide sucker when it comes to "always follow your dreams" movies. I think they are what we should be telling our kids. Our world is as black-and-white as it gets and it's become utterly boring. So if it takes a little movie like The Astronaut Farmer to sprinkle a little blue or orange into our kids' lives, then why not. No matter how crazy a dream is, we all should be able to embrace it and follow it as far as it takes us. I wouldn't be here if I didn't follow mine.
I am starting to notice a range when it comes Billy Bob Thornton's acting. There seems to be so many projects where he is either some mentally unstable guy or just plain creepy. In this film, he is the most subdued and grounded you will ever see him. You can literally see where he is channeling Jimmy Stewart and it's amazing. I really could imagine Jimmy Stewart playing this role if he were alive today.
The film reminded me so much of those old Jimmy Stewart movies where he is giving somebody a piece of his mind like in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It's a Wonderful Life. All that got me thinking of what this film would have been like if Frank Capra had made it.
I also really felt Virginia Madsen's warmth as his supportive wife, as her husband follows his dream even if most of the town thinks he is crazy. She is as grounded and subtle as Thornton, but not boring.
The Astronaut Farmer is one of best family films I have seen in a long time. In a lot of respects, it reminded me some of The World's Fastest Indian but mainly in spirit and grace. (4 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.