Movies

Movie Review: Ad Astra

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This decade has been filled with stellar space travel films, such as “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” “The Martian” and “First Man.”  “Ad Astra” is no exception.

Brad Pitt (“Allied,” “The Big Short,” “Word War Z”) is Roy McBride, an astronaut whose work is his life, following his father’s footsteps.  His father was Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones, “Jason Bourne,” “Lincoln,” “The Company Men”), the most decorated astronaut in history, legendary explorer and space hero.  The first human to reach Jupiter and Saturn, he and his crew were near Neptune on a mission called the Lima Project to search for intelligent life decades ago.  They were lost and presumed dead 16 years ago. 

Credit: Francois Duhamel. Copyright Twentieth Century Fox

When a series of strange electrical surges from space lead to catastrophic results on Earth, the Space Command officials think that they are caused by the anti-matter reactor from the Lima Project.  The truth, as presented to Roy, is that they think Clifford found something during his mission and might likely still be alive.  The continual power and communication failures would threaten mankind.  Roy is brought in to make contact with his now-presumed alive father and destroy the Lima Project.

Known for his calm composure, Roy routinely undergoes and passes psychological profile and heart rate tests so he’s always mission-ready.   It is at the cost of his relationship with his estranged wife (Liv Tyler), however.  It’s obvious that underneath the impenetrable exterior and trained detachment, there is a lost little boy carrying the pain of abandonment.

Credit: Francois Duhamel. Copyright Twentieth Century Fox

The movie is visually arresting and audibly striking.  There’s a stunning sequence of Roy plummeting, somersaulting and spinning down towards Earth from a space tower when the power surge hits.  Moon buggies traversing the lunar surface followed by pursuits towards the edge of space.  Earth looks like a blue marble glowing in the dark viewed from the silvery landscape of the moon.  Mars is awash in golden hues and mystery.  Neptune looks cool with its blue ring of rock showers.  The void of space is vast and dark.

Roy’s interstellar trip to reach Neptune starts with a commercial space flight to the moon, answering a distressed call and a violent turn, and a stopover in Mars.  In the Red Planet, Roy attempts to send signals to his father, the first time he’s ever seen to be remotely emotional.  He also meets a woman (Ruth Negga) who reveals to him the real truth about his father and the Lima Project crew.

Ruth Negga and Brad Pitt star in “Ad Astra”.

Roy is more determined than ever to do what it takes to board the rocket to Neptune, although it’s not without dire consequences.  When his father’s whereabouts and state becomes clear, Roy is hit with another layer of truth.  He must come to terms with what he discovers and decides how to move forward.   It questions the point when passion becomes obsession and what you think is your destiny may obscure you from reality or what really matters.

This is a Pitt-focused movie, both in narration and performance.  He’s able to convey both the flat emotional state that is often required of him or what he’s allowed himself to feel and the depth of his troubled soul.  He portrays a man in control and utterly comfortable with isolation, while carrying quiet anger, hurt, desperation and deep yearning to reconnect with his father, fear of turning into the man who abandoned him, acceptance, healing and peace of mind.  Pitt restrainedly takes us through his engrossing inner journey.

“Ad Astra” means “to the stars.”  At the helm of director James Gray, the exploration of the stars is more of a backdrop here.  Masterfully made, “Ad Astra” is an introspective character exploration and profound development of one man’s relationship with himself and life.

Copyright (c) 2019. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic (rottentomatoes.com/critic/nathalia-aryani). She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

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