Ad Astra, in Latin, means “to the stars,” and to the stars we go in this gorgeous ride through space following a moodily reserved Brad Pitt; the film is in the same vein as Interstellar, but not quite as epic or broad in scope, yet is still magnificent in its own way.
Set in the near future, electrical surges, coming from deep in the solar system and that threaten Earth’s stability, power toward mankind, with an early death toll around 40,000. Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), son of a hero (Tommy Lee Jones), must discretely travel to Neptune to find his father, who may be dead or alive, and stop his final project from destroying us all.
I have a soft spot for sci-fi adventures, they’re arguably my favorite genre of film. So, the whole week leading up to Ad Astra’s release I was chewing at the bit to see it. And I can say, I was not disappointed. The film is breathtaking, but of course it is, it’s a space movie. The lunar sequences look great, the lighting on Mars is dosed in a reddish orange hue, reminding me of Blade Runner 2049, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey has its hands all over this film. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema draws from his experience in doing Interstellar (he also shot Dunkirk) to make Ad Astra feel reminiscent of a Nolan epic – I just wish I had the chance of seeing this film in IMAX. Ad Astra also benefits from the work of Max Richter, one of my favorite composers today, whose subtle score produces the wonderous feeling of someone gazing at the stars, only to one day reach them.
Brad Pitt, hot off the heels of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, steps up to the plate to deliver his potential lead-acting bid. His performance reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling’s in First Man last year, playing the astronaut whose pulse never goes above a certain level; part of me wonders, did Neil Armstrong or Gosling’s portrayal inspire him at all? Pitt is largely stoic, but you can tell there is some oppressed anger lingering behind his facial expressions. And throughout the film, Pitt guides his character’s development by slowly releasing his pent-up frustration, and facing his weighty past, although it being a struggle at times. Pitt also offers a lot of voice-over work, often narrating his character’s thoughts, putting us inside the mind of Roy McBride. However, the film seems to over rely on this narration, sometimes having Pitt explain things to us the visual medium should’ve been able to convey to the audience on its own.
Tommy Lee Jones is the kind of actor who can be in a film five minutes and leave his mark, and in Ad Astra that is exactly what he does. He provides this late disruptive presence, also offering an introspective reflection to Pitt’s McBride; the whole confrontation between the son and father is a pair of heavyweight actors dueling philosophies on our relative existence and life’s purpose. Donald Sutherland is good, but I felt he was ultimately underused as only an early plot driver.
I found this film to be fascinating; the possibilities of the future, in terms of technology and travel specifically, are constructed with great realism. Ad Astra is a mix of ambitious and grounded sci-fi, proposing what would be tremendous feats yet also settling for some plausibility. Elon Musk should see this film. There are moments which those with a critical scientific lens may be distracted by, these moments often utilized for cinematic effect rather than staying in reality. I personally had no issue with the film’s science (not my strongest subject), but my friend who I saw the film with (an engineering major) made sure to point these flaws out to me afterward. However, what we did agree on was that the film was reasonably paced. Ad Astra is a patient thriller, as the audience we are given more time to admire the visuals and understand our protagonist, yet obstacles along McBride’s journey put us on edge and the impending threat of extinction adds to the film’s urgency. But I must convey this film will not be for everyone and may come off as slow, I’ve seen the word “boring” thrown around more times than I care for and while I disagree, I understand. Ad Astra surpassed my already high expectations and I can’t wait to add this one to my Blu-ray collection. 9/10