MOVIE: AD ASTRA
STARRING: BRAD PITT; RUTH NEGGA; DONALD SUTHERLAND; TOMMY LEE JONES
DIRECTED BY: JAMES GRAY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
Ad Astra is about the relationship between a father and a son. It is about humanities relationship with science and the stars. It is about a mission, one that involves seeking out a resolution, hoping to find the things in our lives that have made us who we are. It won’t be for everyone, but Ad Astra is the first film in some time to take the themes of masculinity head on. The question of “what does it mean to be a man?” is asked of the male species everyday, and it continues to be answered incorrectly. We say, “be tough”, or people complain that the world is getting “soft”, meanwhile men are responsible for 96% of all mass shootings. Why do we do this? What are we proving? Are we making young men tougher? Or are we just setting them up to be lost? Seeking the answers to those questions is why Ad Astra is an incredible journey. It is about a man, given the conflicted task of finding out if his father is still alive at a space station and along the way, he will discover himself. I know I discovered plenty about myself while watching. Ad Astra is an emotional trip into space and beyond.
Brad Pitt, who is having a phenomenal 2019 after the success of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, plays the role of Roy McBride. He is a decorated astronaut, married to his beautiful wife Eve (Liv Tyler) and the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), the first astronaut to go beyond the moon on a mission to Neptune. Roy’s skills are equal to a robots. Never having a resting heart beat above 85 BPM, passing every psych evaluation with flying colors, and capable of handling every situation he is asked of. When mysterious solar flares strike earth, causing massive devastation in power and technology systems, Roy is called upon to go on an undercover mission to discover the source. Some of his generals believe it to still be his father, lost in the void, believed dead, but now sending a signal for rescue. His father’s friend Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) will accompany Roy on this mission, but this is not just an easy rescue mission. This is a journey for Roy that will break-up his marriage, confront a man that chose work as he has and open old wounds from some 40-years ago.
It will be easy for some to dismiss Ad Astra, as another story of a white male with daddy issues. That may be true on the surface, but director James Gray is searching for something in himself and all of us. This is not a privileged or lazy dig into the male ego. This is a discovery of self for all men. I think many will relate to this. Constantly, men continue to put pressure on themselves, striving to be perfect as Roy does. What Gray and co-writer Ethan Gross reveal is that seeking perfection or greatness is a path to isolation, neglect to the things that truly matter in life. The mission will involve a collection of thrilling moments, including a rover chase by pirates on the moon, a stop at a space station with a dismembered crew, and a race to catch a leaving ship with the help of a mystery woman named Helen (Ruth Negga). Similar to the metaphors in Gravity of a women’s fight for survival in the face of massive tragedy, Ad Astra is one man’s journey to face his demons, his past, and discover who he truly is.
On top of the fantastic directing from Gray, Ad Astra is a gorgeous sight from start to finish. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, who had done impeccable work in Dunkirk, is always breathtaking. With a gorgeous symphonic-style score by Max Richter, there are times when Ad Astra is both serene and deeply therapeutic. It’s easy to think we have seen outer space movies such as this before, The Martian, Interstellar, or last years sadly unappreciated First Man all have done things similar, but each is a different study of humans, and what drives us to reach for the stars.
This, and a myriad of other reasons is why Ad Astra is by far one of the best movies of 2019. Brad Pitt delivers a performance unlike anything he has done for some time. His work here is calm, collected, boiling over with emotion, and worthy of high praise. For James Gray, he continues what he started in his pursuit for discovery in Lost City of Z and has made a movie that I can’t wait to show to my own son. We will learn a lot from a movie like Ad Astra. How to have courage and commitment to the things that matter on earth and boldly go where we have never gone before.
Written by: Leo Brady