Review: "Ad Astra"
Ad Astra could easily be written off as just another Interstellar, Gravity, or so on at first glance. However, Ad Astra defers from previous space exploration films by being much more intimate and focused on its main character and his journey throughout the course of the film. By keeping the focus on him, and having an actor of Brad Pitt's talent, this film was able to remove itself from the crowd of space films. Ad Astra is incredibly sincere in its delivery and telling of a story about fathers and sons, more so that of absent fathers and the void it can create in the child.
The plot follows Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who is the son of a legend, Clifford McBride, (Tommy Lee Jones) who led a voyage into deep space in search of intelligent life 30 years ago. Sadly, the ship and crew were never heard from again. Roy, now a fearless astronaut in his own right much like his father, is given information that tells him that his father is still alive and may in fact be at fault for these power surges that have had in uptick in activity on Earth and endangered Roy's latest mission. He must embark on a mission to Neptune, the last planet where Clifford made contact, in order to uncover the truth about his missing father and the mysterious power surges that threatens the livelihood of everyone in the universe. Roy knows he is being used as a pawn by the people that he works for, but the mystery of how his father may still be alive and why he never heard from him for a full 30 years drives him on his quest to find his father.
The obvious star of the film is Brad Pitt and his performance in it truly makes the film go. At times it feels as if he isn't even acting and that he is indeed this character. How he carries all the angst, anger, and confusion over how his father may be alive after 30 years is truly captivating. James Gray, the writer and director, deserves tons of credit for crafting a beautiful, intimate story with "daddy issues" at its core but it is truly through Pitt's talents that the film excels. The stakes of the plot are of the grand life or death variety, but it largely feels secondary to the plot of the father and son. Roy is terrified of bearing the sins of his father, but hates being like him as well. Everyone he comes across labels him a legend because of his father's previous exploits, to which he never says a word. He wants to be his own man and wants to stop being stuck in solitude. This theme, against the backdrop of being stuck in the void of space, is frankly beautiful.
The other star of this film is again the man behind the camera, James Gray, who has steadily been building a very impressive resume. Ad Astra is the most impressive film he has directed thus far and he even shared writing credit. He did a beautiful job with Ad Astra both on the page and behind the camera. As you can expect with a film that features space travel, it truly has some incredible imagery. Two scenes in particular stick out, one being when Roy is traveling on the moon and getting attacked by pirates. The absence of sound, while he and others are being shot at, added plenty of tension to an already tense scene. The second scene that stuck out to me was a long shot of Neptune with its large blue rings. Beyond imagery and well crafted scenes, the music did a terrific job of adding a bit of tension too. All this being said, it still isn't a film without flaws. Due to its intimate approach and laser focus on Roy McBride, it does have a certain short story type of feel and it does drag a bit halfway through. Outside of Clifford McBride, characters come and go throughout the two-hour run time. Liv Tyler makes an appearance as a love interest to Roy only in occasional flashbacks, but due to his focus on his job and his own selfishness, he did nothing but push her away. Despite her very small role, she does make a big impact on Roy in the long term.