I think I, like most young boys and girls grew up with a fascination for Space. Outer Space, that is. Its all around us. During the day it looks blue and at night its black and the stars shine. Growing up you learn more and more, and our eyes grew wider and wider at the utter vastness that is Space and how to wrap our heads around it all.
There are a great many questions we ask in life, and the one I’d focus on a lot at that age was, “are we alone?”. To this day I still don’t know. I’d like to think that we aren’t, but evidence of that still eludes us. So, we become fascinated by stories in all forms of media that seek to answer that question or just play with the idea.
I love space movies. I love the exploration, the commentary on life and what it all means relative to how much space we occupy in it. The stories of human struggle in opposition to out of this world conflict. I love them even more when it deals with internal conflict with Space as the backdrop.
It’s like the best of both worlds. No pun intended.
Roy McBride on the surface is a man who has it all. He’s got the best of this world. He’s the son of a Space Command hero. He’s an exceptional astronaut himself, and he’s Brad “Freaking” Pitt. Inside he’s dealing with a quest; in search of meaning in his life despite of everything he has going for it. Roy is sent on a mission across the stars that will look to give him what he’s in search of. He must uncover the truth about his missing father who never returned from a mission to the far side of our solar system almost 30 years ago that puts our universe at risk.
Uniquely, while I find many points in this film to connect to, the one most paramount to Roy’s journey I don’t identify with, yet I’m completely invested in. I didn’t grow up with my father and even though I had a great stepdad to step up and step in, he didn’t feel like he was mine. I couldn’t see myself in him and maybe that’s why the whole “sins of the father” thing never crept into my psyche. My stepdad grew up in a military family, and that sure as hell wasn’t me, but I also wasn’t crippled by the expectations to live up to whatever idealized version of a son he would have for me.
Id contend I’m the exception rather than the rule as a lot of people close to me who have dealt with this type of personal embattlement, don’t fare so well.
Roy is stoic, even keeled, so much so his exceptionalism is due to his reserved nature, where even in danger of falling to his death from outside of our atmosphere his heart rate never rose above 80 something beats per minute. I don’t quite know what that all means, but its uncommon. Roy is uncommon for a lot of reasons and what’s fascinating is how he deals with it and the journey we go on as an audience with him. He narrates this story written and directed by James gray that’s deeply personal with extraordinary circumstances going on around it.
This film charts like a novel as while having conversations with other characters, Roy is also talking to himself and really us. There’s a duality at work that demonstrates clearly what we project versus who we are. The script works well in this aspect revealing a flawed character that on the outside is revered, yet on the inside still the same fractured boy who hasn’t healed from his dad’s departure from his life. It’s sad, you feel for him even if you haven’t felt that type of grief in your own life.
Brad Pitt expertly displays a range of emotions that cycle through the internal monologue in one of the coolest ways you’ll see on screen. You believe his academia relative to who we see him as; this accomplished astronaut on a mission, and as he nears closer to answers he didn’t fully understand he was looking for, cracks in that armor are exposed till it all pours out in a beautifully designed scene where Roy calls out for his father who he now believes is alive, and all the good will he’s built up professionally is tossed away.
Throughout the film Roy is battling the emotional with the mental as he is tasked to take several psychological exams throughout the day to prove he his capable of doing his job to the best of his abilities. When his heart starts to win the battle over his head, and he is deemed unfit to carry out the mission further, that’s when the film moves so much faster and we latch on to a character willing to throw his entire life away for the smallest chance to reconcile face to face with his dad.
How great that journey is, it doesn’t fully wash away a lot of the other expendable plot points and characters that fall through due to the handling of the overall narrative.
The bulk of this review has been about Roy and that’s because this film downright just doesn’t care to weave in engaging and sustaining characters throughout it. Capable and big-name performers make their entrances and their exits just as quick to only serve forwarding Roy’s progression and make the story feel a little leaner than it should. Fully fleshed out supporting characters would only work to round out the entire story and the world that’s built and can aid the audience to find other connecting points, in the event the “Absentee Fatherhood” doesn’t hook you.
Those qualms aside, the picture’s brilliant to look at. The cinematography is outstanding and all the technical elements at work in this movie play very well together. The score feels like “2001: a Space Odyssey” while it looks like a cross between “Interstellar” and “Bladerunner: 2049”.
However, you can detect a sense of outside interests being appeased to add in more visual elements to service the reception of the film rather than the story, as several of the scenes in this film felt odd and like with the supporting characters don’t carry much weight.
But, Roy’s journey is so satisfying to me in the 3rd act, I’m willing to look past it all. There’s such a poignant revelation that happens that’s world shattering for some, but I find to be knock you on your ass good and performed so subtle yet blunt, it just worked. We get an answer to that age-old question, and what we realize is that the answer is different for everyone.
“Ad Astra” is a gorgeously made Psychological Drama disguised as a space epic. Brad Pitt spectacularly delivers a deeply emotional, affecting, and gripping internal performance that’s relatable and universal you can take the “Space Movie” completely out of this film. It’s well intentioned despite its shortcomings with other characters outside of Pitt, but is supported so well by stunning cinematography, score and production design that makes this a cinematic experience you won’t want to miss.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 8/10
Director: James Gray
Writer: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler
Run Time: 123 mins