Film Review: Ad Astra

Ad Astra is a matter of fact exploration and character study of our potential space future and a man who is lost among humanity and might have to travel across the solar system to potentialy find faith in it.

Brad Pitt stars as Major Roy McBride, son of the legendary Cliff McBride who was lost in deep space in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, who is walking in the footsteps of his father; in more ways than one. When tasked to potentially reconnect with his father, in more ways than one?, Roy reluctantly doesn’t have a choice but to go along with the government’s plan. Humanity’s future is at stake.

James Gray and his creative team are in peak form with Ad Astra, as the film is quite possibly the most stunning looking film of the year. Aiming for more 2001 than Gravity, Gray lets us sit in the mundane nature of space travel, yet he compelling photographs it for us at every turn. The futurism of the science feels very grounded in a potential reality, and it’s what keeps you engaged in between Roy’s musings about those around him and his own internal struggle. Gray never wastes a shot, from the smallest detail, to the infinite vistas, he and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s shots endlessly impress. Paired with Max Richter and Lorne Balfe’s score, the film never lets go of your attention. 

James Gray’s script, with Ethan Gross, takes us on a road movie to the stars, with various set pieces and chance encounters along the way that keep things on edge as Roy hurtles towards his destiny. Pitt’s dialogue drives the film from start to finish, as his inner monologue fills us in on the struggles pulling at him under his calm and collected demeanor. Pitt sucks his charisma out of Roy, who along with everyone else, feels like a cog in the machine to be ground up. The amazing has become routine and there is an apathetic sadness in everyone in this future. Gray never lets that sully his film, as Pitt never lets your attention wonder. 

Pitt is the only actor with more than a couple of lines in the film, and he is able to carry the film on his shoulders from start to finish. Ruth Negga is quite good in a brief layover in the middle of the film, but I think the script doesn’t give her quite enough for her moment to land. The film keeps digging inward into Roy as the film goes on, and I can’t help but wonder if one more interesting pit stop could have put this film into A+ territory. I can’t wait to see the film again, knowing what it wants to be, as I was a bit caught off guard with the final act of the film and the turns that it takes.

Ad Astra isn’t the action epic the trailer might be selling, but it is a movie star character study that sucks you in even at its most contemplative moments. Gray crafts more than a few wicked set pieces, while never forgetting to capture some awe whenever possible as Pitt traverses across the solar system. Ad Astra has few things to complain about, and might be one of my favorite films of the year.

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