Movie review: Ad Astra – To daddy issues & beyond
The alternative tagline for this sci-fi adventure film could be "To daddy issues and beyond".
Usually, Hollywood movies' seemingly endless desire to work it out with dad sends my eyes rolling.
Yet, while it does play a large part in Ad Astra, it is testament to James Gray and Brad Pitt's abilities that it works.
In the cold light of text, the ingredients of Ad Astra would make for a great daft space opera - it has a secret mission, earth under attack, all life threatened. It even has moon pirates and a martian. You can instantly picture the Michael Bay version.
But Gray has crafted a much more intimate film. This is close to Apocalypse Now in space – an introspective journey of a man tasked to go to a far-flung place to confront and solve a situation.
The true key to it working is Pitt. As astronaut Roy McBride, he is barely off the screen and often in close-up. And if you are going to stare at an actor's face for two hours, you want it to be Pitt – here in a role that mirrors the stoicism of his character in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, though with fewer smiles. Yet Pitt does so much with only a few expressions.
Gray does not move fast, and the pace matches that of McBride's amazingly low resting heart rate. Some will call it evenly paced, some may be bored. Hopefully, you watch it with a polite audience who won't reach for the phones .
Gray has created a very (oxymoronic) grounded universe. The pioneering thrill of space travel has gone. You fly commercial to the moon and will be charged over $100 for a blanket. The moon has been colonised though this moonbase is closer to a mega mid-range airport/mall and plastered with brand logos (There's even a replica of the neon cowboy sign from Las Vegas' Pioneer Club casino).
Bringing a weary realism to proceedings, the moon is also a hotly contested mass with it being carved into various zones and even having an No Man's Land and marauders.
With that and later revelations, despite the awesome visuals, it almost seems like Gray is done with space before we even properly get out there.
There are some moments of action – the race against the moon pirates being brilliantly realised.
It is hard to not feel that this film wears it influences on its sleeve. Like in Apocalypse Now, our protagonist meets various people on his journey – some help, some hinder, some are well on their way to having some form of mental episode. The further he travels, the stranger things get.
It also feels like the point where 2001: A Space Odyssey, First Man, Blade Runner 2049 and Tree Of Life – the latter for both the dad issues and Brad Pitt voiceover – meet.
While it does not quite hold together for the ending, Ad Astra is a welcome change of pace that will have you debating its meaning for some time.
FILM: Ad Adstra
STARRING: Brad Pitt, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland
DIRECTOR: James Gray
THE SKINNY: Energy blasts from the outskirts of the solar system threaten all life on earth. Astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is tasked to discover if it has anything to do with a deep-space mission his father (Jones) embarked upon decades earlier.
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