‘The Astronaut Farmer’


The fourth film from Mark and Michael Polish will very likely alienate fans of their earlier work, who will wonder what became of their rueful inscrutability and scoff at the cornpone, heart-on-the-sleeve sentiments that permeate every second of this latest. But those who do turn up their noses at this story of a former astronaut (played by Billy Bob Thornton, blessedly shirking the drunken shit-heel parts that have defined his filmography of late) who still dreams of space travel and inspires his family with his indefatigable spirit will miss out, because The Astronaut Farmer remains very much in line with the Polish brothers’ earlier work. It’s still a fairy tale, only for grade-school children for whom such aphorisms as “If we don’t have our dreams, we have nothing” are not hackneyed greeting-card sentiments but inspiration. There is no denying it: This is male-weepie, Field of Dreams territory, a tale of a son risking farm and family in order to escape the specter of his daddy’s failures. But this movie works precisely because it’s bereft of modern cinema’s cynicism—that above-it-all sneer that permeates most of the well-intentioned kiddie films made more to hold parents’ attention than their children’s.