Produced, Co-Written, and Directed by James Gray
A man goes on a mission through space after his father whose experiment threatens the entire solar system.
The focus of this story is Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) and his personal and physical journey. Roy has been living in the shadow of his father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been built up to be something of a hero since vanishing 16 years ago while leading the Lima Project to search for extrasolar intelligent life.
This film was marketed as much more action oriented than what it actually is. There is some action, but the movie is more character driven than action driven. It is thoughtful science fiction and not blatant spectacle. I think this is part of the issue audiences may have had with it. They went in expecting Brad Pitt to be zipping around and doing battle and instead they got a slow and steady story about deep ideas.
This is not a science-fiction film with explosions (at least not many) nor exciting space battles. It is a drama. It is about living in someone’s shadow and about loss and about personal connection. The focus is on the characters and not on spectacle. Though the threat could destroy everything, that is not what the movie is actually about.
Ad Astra touches on the dark path that personal obsession can lead us down. Roy’s father killed his crew because he claims they were going to mutiny and head home, but it is clear his character just cannot deal with the information that he has gathered and what it proves. He is blinded to what is right in front of him and wants to push on in a vain hope of his views being proven right.
The end message of the film is something people should embrace-especially these days. It is not so much that we are alone but we as a species are all we have. We need to come together because as far as we know right now there is no other place to go and there is no other species out there. If we go away then something unique will be lost.
Haunted by his own issues, Roy has disconnected from as much as possible. He is estranged from his wife Eve (Liv Tyler). He has lost hope and perhaps is even just going through the motions.
Natasha Lyonne makes what amounts to a cameo appearance in this film. She greets Brad Pitt and sends him on his way and that is the extent of her involvement. I am not saying she has to be a major character, but she was essentially the door greeter at Walmart here. This could have been accomplished by anyone else. It is a waste of a good actress. Supposedly she lives in the same building as the director and became involved because she liked what she heard after inviting herself to his apartment for dinner. I give her props for being aggressive but she should have pushed for something more.
A touch more space opera than hard science fiction, this is a visually stunning film and a deep, emotional story. The visuals in this film are just amazing. The future is not all brightly lit nor is it dystopian and run down. It is lived in with problems not too different from what you see today. We are human and we do not automatically become better because we advance technologically.
Ad Astra is beautiful to look at. The landscapes are stark and harsh but have the desolate beauty you would find in photos from NASA. The moments in space feel as if they are being photographed by a passing probe. They make space look like, well, space. They do not give it the sheen you might find in Star Wars or Star Trek.
And everything is accompanied with a wonderful soundtrack. The music is amazing and conveys wonder or fear or whatever the scene calls for. It pulls you in and immerses you in the experience of the film.
This film ranks right up there with recent efforts like Gravity or Interstellar which are deeper and more in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey. These are all character driven films that are more than fun adventures. They touch on deeper things and at the end leave you with things to ponder over. As said before, this film was marketed as something that it was not and that hurt its reception. I think given time it will be more appreciated by the general public
Ad Astra is definitely not a film for everybody, but it is a good film that everybody should see. It is thoughtful and enthralling science fiction that was marketed poorly by the studio. If you have the opportunity, I recommend you watch it. You will not be disappointed.