The Polish Brothers have directed a set of unique indie dramas - "Jackpot", "Twin Falls, Idaho" and "Northfork". I've not completely fallen for any of the three, but they've offered a lot to like, with fine performances, strong mood and offbeat characters. "Astronaut Farmer" is the duo's most mainstream effort to date, but it still retains a lot of their flavor - it's rather like if the Coen Brothers made their version of "Apollo 13".
The film stars Billy Bob Thornton as Charles Farmer, an average small town guy who has been spending years building a rocket in his barn. The people of the town think he's gone off the reservation, but are accepting. The government, however, is not exactly thrilled when they find that he's been trying to buy a ton of rocket fuel. The bank is also coming after him because he's deeply in debt trying to finance his dream of launching himself into space.
The government wants to crack down on Farmer and not let him launch - in comes CNN, who starts a media frenzy that eventually reached around the globe about the small town guy trying to launch himself into space. As the government tightens their grip on the situation and Farmer gets closer to losing everything, he makes a go of it and the first launch doesn't exactly go well - although it does make for a rather freaky and spectacular sequence as the rocket falls off the launch pad and then blasts off once it falls over, shooting across the open land.
Despite the horrible misfire on the first attempt, Farmer doesn't quit and sets out to try, try again. As absurd as Farmer's dream sounds - even if he has prior experience with rockets, a civilian building a rocket and trying to launch themself into space with no real outside supervision seems a tad insane - the movie still manages to be rather uplifting nevertheless. Thornton's excellent, confident performance is one of his better ones recently, getting us to root for Farmer. Virginia Madsen is also excellent as his incredibly - rather unrealistically (considering the situation) - understanding wife. An amusing cameo comes from Bruce Willis, Thornton's co-star in "Armageddon".
Overall, despite the need for suspension of disbelief, this is an enjoyable, well-acted (and beautifully filmed, with gorgeous 'scope cinematography) movie about following one's dreams.
VIDEO: "Astronaut Farmer" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This was mostly a lovely presentation from the studio. Sharpness and detail were mostly first-rate, as the picture almost always appeared crisp and well-defined. A few shots seemed slightly soft, but not distractingly so. Some slight edge enhancement appeared and a few traces of artifacting showed up, but nothing serious. The print looked crisp and clean, while colors also appeared warm and rich. Overall, a very nice effort.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation roars to life during the takeoff sequences, which put the surrounds to excellent use and offer some serious bass. Otherwise, this is a dialogue-heavy drama and, as one would expect, the audio often folds up to the front. Audio quality is fine, with crisp dialogue, a full score and crisp, well-recorded effects.
EXTRAS: A long 8+ minute gag reel features some amusing gags from Thornton and generally remains pretty funny. We also get a 28-minute "making of" documentary and a short interview with NASA Astronaut David Scott.
Final Thoughts: Overall, despite the need for suspension of disbelief, this is an enjoyable, well-acted (and beautifully filmed, with gorgeous 'scope cinematography) movie about following one's dreams. The DVD provides very good audio/video quality, but just a few minor extras. A highly recommended rental.
The Film B