Directed by: #JamesGray
Sometime in the near future, mankind has begun to look towards the stars for salvation, expanding the reach of human existence to other planets and sectors of the solar system in hopes of progression and answers. Space travel has not only evolved but has become an integral and everyday part of life.
Pitt is Major Roy McBride, an astronaut with a lot of galactic miles under his belt and a reputation for staying incredibly calm under pressure. But Roy has a lot to live up to, constantly in the shadow of his father and space hero Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), assumed to be dead after a deep space voyage to Neptune gone awry. When the Earth and the rest of the solar system is impacted by strange and destructive pulses, they are believed to be originating from the lost ship. Roy is then sent into space, tasked with communicating with his father, in the hopes of averting this impending disaster.
Ad Astra may be one of the most visually stunning yet intimate dramas to come to screen in a long time. The influence of the ground-breaking sci-fi movies that came before it is evident, but director James Gray has very much carved out his own path here. Gray manages to fully capture the vast and awe-inspiring nature of space in a way that doesn’t seem over-polished, but enough to make your eyes fully widen as you watch rockets propel into space, buggies race across the surface of the Moon, or simply gaze at the beautiful deep blue of Neptune. It is a brilliant reminder of the wonders lying just outside our atmosphere, something that perhaps has been forgotten by more recent generations.
Despite the unbelievable images on screen, the world that has been built here seems a bit more grounded. Humanity’s achievements may have taken them deep into the cosmos, but the very root of human nature is exposed here; the Moon, now completely colonized, is almost indistinguishable from Earth, while also being home to several nations, some of which are in constant war over resources. These touches key into the film’s bigger and more important questions about mankind’s folly and about our hopes for the future.
Because of this, the film earns it’s bigger, more dramatic action set-pieces. From the opening five minutes where we see Roy literally tumbling miles and miles from space towards the ground, to the aforementioned lunar chase, these are moments that don’t ultimately feel out of place because of the extraordinary groundwork laid before it.
The cast, while small and mostly secondary to Pitt, is also on point. Tommy Lee Jones is fantastic as expected in a limited but highly effective role, as are most of the supporting cast. But this is Roy’s story and Pitt at times is extraordinary to watch. His slow unravelling as he comes to terms with this abandonment issues, while also dealing with the psychological drain of being alone in space is brilliantly drawn out by an actor on truly great form.
There are a couple of sight missteps. Most of Roy’s monologues that run throughout seem like unnecessary weight that jolt the film off its axis every so often, falling flat rather than adding anything substantial. And while his married life is a key part in the baggage Roy must face on his journey, the presence of Liv Tyler as his wife is so underused that for all the minimal impact those handful of scenes have, the film could easily have not included her at all, which is a shame for an actress of her calibre.
Although it has the top-line premise of a disaster movie, Ad Astra is a beautifully crafted and deeply personal character driven drama, wonderfully played out on the biggest possible stage.