Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led a voyage into deep space, but the ship and crew were never heard from again. Now his son Roy (Brad Pitt) — a fearless astronaut — must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and a mysterious power surge that threatens the stability of the universe.
When it comes to films centered around and taking place in outer space, I tend to not get too excited for them. This is probably due to the fact that nearly all of them these days follow the exact same formula. An astronaut with big dreams wants to go to outer space to try to accomplish something, they face some challenges and obstacles along the way, but in the end, they finally manage to succeed at what they do. So many space films follow that same beat for beat structure and I was praying that James Gray’s latest feature Ad Astra would not do that.
The buzz for this movie was incredible, with many viewing the film as a masterpiece. However, I was not too sure what to expect from the film, due to Gray’s direction. His previous feature was The Lost City of Z, a picture that a ton of people viewed as just okay. It was genuinely hard to tell how Gray would handle a film with such an intriguing concept and its big themes.
But, I am ecstatic to inform you that not only is Ad Astra a hypnotic and engrossing epic and one of the best films of the year thus far, but it is one of the best space films of the entire decade.
One of the reasons why this film works as well as it does is due to Brad Pitt’s Oscar-worthy performance as lead protagonist Roy McBride. From the first time his character appears on screen and we learn a little bit about him, he is incredibly interesting. His highly respected father, Clifford, went missing on a mission, but clues lead him to suspect that he is possibly still alive. The journey that he goes on is one that is absolutely filled with philosophical questions about life, the world, and the beyond.
Not only is Pitt a great addition to the cast, but everybody present here is truly great. Although Pitt certainly gets the most amount of screen time, plenty of others such as Ruth Negga and Donald Sutherland get their moments to shine, and they utilize their scenes brilliantly. Each and every single one of these characters are highly intriguing and they are characters that feel so real. You want to learn more about them with every sequence.
But besides all of the phenomenal acting, my favorite aspect of Ad Astra is by far its story and the extremely deep themes that it explores throughout its one hundred and twenty four minute running time. The themes Gray explores here could definitely bore many audiences, but for me, I found every line of dialogue and every little detail to be greatly important to the grand picture. There are dozens of moments in this film in which we will simply spend minutes focusing on Pitt’s facial expressions, or we will hear his thoughts while he is out in space, and they are presented in great ways. This is one of the most thought-provoking films in years.
It is also emmacuately shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, who served as cinematographer on gorgeous looking movies such as Interstellar and Dunkirk and it is easy to see why Gray would want to hire him for this picture. Every frame is carefully thought out and there is a plethora of shots in Ad Astra that will leave you breathless.
Max Richter’s score is additionally euphoric and makes the entire movie feel so much more grand. It is one of the most hypnotic film scores I have heard in an extremely long time and I am heavily excited to listen to it again. It fits the film perfectly, and Richter was an amazing choice for composer.
When it comes to issues with this movie, there are really only a couple, with the first being the editing at times. For the most part, the editing is truly brilliant, but there are a couple of scenes towards the first act where the shot was cut way too quickly, and it would have been better if the scene had simply gone on a bit longer. Second, there are perhaps one or two scenes in the film where it is quite unclear what is going on and it can make for a confusing chunk of the movie, but after you see where the story is going, it makes sense. This is a first viewing problem, but upon second viewing, this most likely would not be an issue at all.
James Gray’s Ad Astra is a hypnotic and philosophical space epic with terrific performances throughout, and explores heavy themes in a deep, moving way.
Overall Grade: A
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland
Directed by: James Gray
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running Time: 124 minutes