The Astronaut Farmer
The Polish brothers, writer-director Michael and actor-writer Mark, specialize in oddball fantasy and eccentric Americana (Northfork, Jackpot, and Twin Falls Idaho). In their first big budget film, they come up with some beguiling, feel-good whimsy about a NASA-trained rancher (Billy Bob Thornton) who dreams of launching himself into orbit with a home-made rocket from the barn on his West Texas spread. The resulting entertainment is predictably quirky, but less conventional and conformist than its PG rating might suggest. A charmingly idiosyncratic supporting cast (Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Blake Nelson, Jon Gries, Sal Lopez, J. K. Simmons and even Bruce Willis) helps keep things offbeat and interesting. M. David Mullan’s superb widescreen cinematography also serves as a reminder that the Polish duo is still making cockeyed latter-day westerns about modern life on the far side (our side) of the middle-American plains.