Typically our world revolves around our relationships, not so in the sci-fi mystery/thriller Ad Astra where Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride in the not too distant future. Or is it?
This latest space-set film is futuristic enough that there are already commercial flights to the moon, where you can hop out and grab yourself a meatball footlong from Subway. Some fighting over natural resources has broken out and pirates have begun to rear their ugly heads but humans are still searching for other intelligent life forms.
Roy’s father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), set out decades ago to find them but never returned from a mission to Neptune. NASA believes that Clifford could still be alive. So in the wake of electrical surges that threaten to destroy all humanity, they want to use Roy to try and elicit a response from him.
What starts out as quite an eventful space mission turns into more of a slow crawl towards a fairly foreseeable finish.
It’s helped along, but not completely saved, by Brad Pitt’s reliably solid performance. It’s lucky he’s easy on the eye because during the film’s two hour run time he is on-screen almost 100% of the time.
His character Roy is unusually calm, detached and guilty of always putting his job before his wife, Eve. Eve’s very minor role is played by Liv Tyler. She’s really only seen in flashbacks and voice messages.
But even someone as at ease in his own company as Roy descends into madness on a lengthy solo journey through space and you have to applaud director James Gray and the filmmakers who manage to make a man on his own in the middle of nowhere interesting to watch.
The whole of Ad Astra has a glow about it that is both wistful and compelling enough to stop you from walking out of the cinema, but perhaps not quite compelling enough to stop your mind from wandering once or twice.
The tone though never wanders. Perhaps anchored by the poignant score from Max Richter, even during the action, there is a subdued overtone that echoes Brad Pitt’s exceptional yet restrained performance. A performance the film would simply fall apart without.
Despite there being early glimpses of it, this is not a tale focused on human destruction or the path humanity is heading down. When all is said and done the sci-fi plot takes a back seat to the father and son relationship and themes of loneliness and existentialism. The story at the core of Ad Astra could have been told anywhere, but it certainly has higher, more ethereal stakes set among the stars.
SEE IT if…
You liked 2001 A Space Odyssey
Admiring Brad Pitt for two hours is your cup of tea
SKIP IT if…
You’re bored by serious films
You didn’t enjoy Gravity
It gets 3.5 stars out of 5
Not your thing?