The Astronaut Farmer, DVD version starring Billy Bob Thornton
Four out of five stars
While there are several logical holes in the plot that you could fly a Saturn V through, the movie is surprisingly moving. The premise is that Charles Farmer (played by Billy Bob Thornton) left the American astronaut program when his father killed himself and he has regretted that decision ever since. In order to compensate, he has acquired rocket parts from junk yards and literally built a rocket capable of manned flight in his barn. His goal is to fly it into orbit and then safely return to Earth.
It is a struggle against very long odds, yet it is probably the ultimate in personal dream hobbies. The government agencies are all against him, what triggers their interest is his attempt to purchase a massive amount of rocket fuel. The Department of Homeland Security correctly realizes that such a substance would make an incredibly powerful destructive device.
His dream continues, even when he faces foreclosure on his ranch, social services believes that that he is putting his children in danger and government representatives refuse to give him permission to fly. When things are at the lowest and it appears that his wife will leave him with their three children, something happens to give Farmer a second chance. He takes it and makes the most of it. There is some peril injected into the flight that was thoroughly predictable, but it can be excused.
The concept of a man building a serviceable rocket capable of human flight in his backyard is a steep logical climb. “Rocket science” is used to describe complex technical tasks and for good reason. What is absurd is the fact that there is a failed launch from inside his barn and the barn is not burned to cinders. With rocket exhaust temperatures in the area of 5000 degrees Fahrenheit, a wooden barn would ignite and burn very quickly. Finally, if the government refused to allow him to attempt a flight, then they would confiscate his rocket.
Yet with all of these logical holes, the act of a man being propelled into space sent a buzz up my spine. The best reaction is when the launch is detected at NASA and Farmer’s astronaut friend gives a knowing smile when he realizes what has happened. Townspeople see the rocket going up and there is pride in their faces. These are without question the best scenes in the movie, overwhelming the absurdity. For this movie is fundamentally about pursuing the supposedly impossible dream.