Ad Astra Brad Pitt review

Year: 2019
Director(s): James Gray
Writer(s): James Gray
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Color, 123 mins

Synopsis: Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father. (Source)

Ad Astra is a miracle. Big budget sci-fi is increasingly rare these days, and James Gray’s space opera is what the genre needs right now. It’s monumental in scope, beautifully shot, and imagines the future in order to explore the most timeless parts of our humanity. It also confronts toxic masculinity and inherited sins while being an unyielding beacon of hope. With one of the most grounded portrayals of space travel so far, the film’s exploration of emotion and science is a sobering picture of what makes us who we are. Gray’s rendered an interstellar race against time that keeps us pinned to our seats and begging for more. On all fronts, this is a refreshingly mature experience that satisfies with wonder and heart. 

Sometime in the near future, mankind has dedicated itself to exploring the stars. Though the world still isn’t perfect, the search for what lies beyond ourselves has taken center stage. Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) works on a large antenna that reaches above the Earth’s atmosphere. After a catastrophic power surge nearly kills him, he’s enlisted for a top secret mission. As it turns out, the source of the surge may be linked to his missing father, a famed scientist named Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones). Roy’s mission is to travel to the Moon and attempt to contact his father. As energy surges around the Earth increase in danger and frequency, Roy is tasked with a personal mission which may decide that fate of the world itself. 

The wonderful thing about Gray’s film, is that the further it travels into space, the more personal it gets. With a story that blends space pirates, shady global corporations, stunning interstellar vistas and repressed feelings of misplaced faith, this is a film that is simultaneously massive and intimate. It delivers in terms of fast paced spectacle, but everything remains tethered to Roy’s inner journey above all else. To pull this off, Gray’s world building works alongside some smart character work, with an economical relationship between both driving introspection and sheer wonder. On that end, the film feels as if it’s constantly transforming with Roy. It all leads to a climax that ties everything together and sends our characters off with an emotional payoff that plays like fireworks. 

Ad Astra review Brad Pitt Donald Sutherland

By design, the world around Roy is basically noise. This is a film that is fiercely tied to Roy’s experience, and how he manages to keep everything and everyone at arms length. Brad Pitt’s performance is the singular element that coheres the story’s moving parts and keeps everything emotionally grounded. There will be many who won’t buy into Pitt’s at times cold exterior, but he is 200% present. It isn’t a stretch to say that the film works because of the nuance and subtlety he portrays. It’s him that makes the entire journey feel claustrophobic despite an infinitely vast canvas. Supporting, Ruth Negga delivers a powerful moment of vulnerability and power, with a revelation that speaks volumes. Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones find ways to stick out despite being used very delicately and sparingly.

As we find the world in a distraught, global tipping point, Ad Astra offers up hope. It’s sincere and genuinely believes in the good of humankind, without shying away from the ways we often allow fear and uncertainty to control us. On multiple levels, the film feels as if it’s been ripped from another era. It’s a big studio picture that has a lot of soul and a simple message that needs to be seen and heard. It’s also an impeccable piece of filmmaking, wielding power from restraint. At its core, I love the idea of a film that pictures society searching the stars for answers. It’s a big idea that is all but lost today, and a reminder that no matter what we find or how far we go, all that matters is our humanity, and how we treat each other and do the best with what we’ve got.