Ad Astra - Review

Space adventure films have been top notch lately. Films like Gravity and The Martian take the genre and offer something new. Ad Astra is the next film in that line, and does the same thing.

Ad Astra was not the film that the preview sold. There isn't a lot of action, adventure, or suspense. It is a slow burn that explores the human condition. The setting just happens to be space. The film deeply explores isolation through Brad Pitt's character Roy McBride. He chooses to get lost in his work, which drives his girlfriend (Liv Tyler) away. Tyler is a wonderful actor, but she was reduced to an extended cameo in the film. She was underused, and it feels like there was a depth there that was left unexplored.

That being said, there were a few action and suspense scenes that were welcome breaks from the doubtful narration provided by Pitt. There is a car chase with a shootout that no one has ever seen before, and a rescue mission that will make audiences jump in their seats. The film is beautifully shot too. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema did an incredible job realizing the marvels of space, and translating that to the screen.

The notion of legacy, and living up to it was done effectively. So was the father/son relationship between Tommy Lee Jones' H. Clifford McBride and Roy. In that came everything else: Work before family, isolation, legacy, and every other theme the film explored.

Ad Astra meticulously lays out the story piece by piece, and it gets more emotional, more complex, and more human the farther away from Earth McBride gets. To tell an inherently emotional human story using a space facade is a genius move from director James Gray.

Pitt gets time to shine in a few emotional scenes, but there is none better than the climax, when he reacts to something his father said. H. Clifford McBride was cold, calculated, driven, and had nothing but apathy for his son or his crew. The straight-laced, no-nonsense wooden Jones was perfect for the role.

While this wasn't Pitt's best performance of the year (that honor goes to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), he still anchored the film to great effect. Everyone else had small roles that complimented him.

Those small roles were memorable however. The two standouts were Jones' Space Cowboys costar Donald Sutherland, and the always enigmatic Ruth Negga. Like Tyler, it felt like there was more to explore with Negga's character that was left on the cutting room floor. She was used as catalyst to further Pitt's story, and nothing more. It is a shame that the films two female characters were reduced to almost nothing. Sutherland was also used for exposition, but he had a bit more depth, in the short time he was on screen.

Anyone who has spent time alone, lived in their father's shadow, or put work ahead of family will have something to relate to in this film. Most people fall into at least one of those categories. For a movie set in the future, and exploring space travel all the way to Neptune, it is one of the most human stories told this year.

Despite a few of its issues, Ad Astra is a powerful film that will stay with people for a long time. It is not an action packed adrenaline rush, but it is beautiful nonetheless. An intimate portrayal of the human condition was unexpected, but it was a welcome change. Go watch it, you might learn something about yourself.

Ad Astra is now in theaters everywhere.


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