Published Sep 18, 2019Being the son of a legendary astronaut sure leaves big boots to fill.
In the near future, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), son of the groundbreaking space traveler H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), learns his famous, absentee father's disappearance into deep space is more mysterious than he first assumed. Roy, an astronaut himself, believes he was orphaned after space officials lost track of Clifford's mission to Neptune decades ago. But he soon finds out there were more complications during his father's mission than he was initially led to believe.
After Roy experiences a life-threatening accident on the construction site of the world's largest antenna, government representatives put him on the task to connect with his father on Neptune via laser transmission on Mars. In order to save mankind from an ongoing destructive onslaught of power surges erupting from Neptune, Roy must reach his father, who has apparently been living in secret at the edge of the solar system. After his failed attempt to signal Clifford, Roy goes rogue on a solo excursion to Neptune in an attempt to gain an understanding of his father and the fate of the human race.
With a small but impactful roster of actors, and sublime deep-space visuals, director James Gray sets the tone for a sci-fi film that examines the horrors of total isolation. While Ad Astra is a plausible portrayal of near-future space travel, the heart of the film centres around human loneliness and the ways in which a mind might seek to rectify an isolation-induced lapse in sanity. As Pitt's character strays farther and farther from home, he unravels. With no psychological tests to monitor his suitability for the mission, and for that matter, no mission in particular left to speak of, Roy's demeanour gradually changes from stoic and emotionless to erratic and terrified.
Pitt's performance as Roy is impeccable. As Roy begins to slip slowly into space madness, he grows unstable, talking to himself, making erratic movements, seeing flashes of loved ones and going over and over his life's many regrets. What lesson is to be learned in all of this? A son's search for his father is feckless, his coping mechanisms have long betrayed him. Stoicism in the face of oblivion seems impossible. And Pitt nails it in his delivery. Of course, the support of heavyweights like Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland (and a surprise cameo from Natasha Lyonne) doesn't hurt.
Few complaints can be made about the film, but it's important to note that the introduction is painfully dumbed down for a sci-fi film. The jargon used seems more fit for a children's movie. And at two hours, it somehow manages to spend more time setting up the plot than actually playing it out. As a result, Ad Astra wraps up too quickly. It's intentionally unsatisfying, likely in an effort to mirror Roy's frustrations and struggles in isolation. There's something to be said about valuing the journey over the destination here, but if Ad Astra were to offer a truly impactful message about human social needs, more time should have been afforded to the closing scenes of the film.
(Twentieth Century Studios)