Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ad Astra, 2019 - ★★★★½

I don't believe I have seen any of James Grey's prior films, but his first venture into outer space is a very beautiful and emotional one that is powered by a movie star having the best year of his long career. Ad Astra is the story of Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) an American astronaut following in the footsteps of his legendary father Clifford McBride (the grizzled Tommy Lee Jones) on a mission across the solar system. A power disturbance has been detected from the Neptune area which just so happens to be the same area Clifford McBride disappeared from 16 years earlier.

Grey and his cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (probably the third-best cinematographer working today who shot Interstellar and Dunkirk) manage to build a gorgeous and realistic look at how space and planet/moon inhabiting would look in the near future. We get to see an Applebee's on the moon and take a glimpse at what Virgin Intergalactic space travel would look like when commercial flights in space become a real thing. There are a few scenes with action sequences (including Moon pirates which is apparently a thing in the future that I have so many questions about), but most of Grey's film is a slow emotional introspective that is peppered with self-evaluation exercises that the astronauts need to complete regularly to remain employed and engaged in their missions.

Liv Tyler plays McBride's lonely wife in a throwaway role (hardly any real screen time) while Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga and Natasha Lyonne show up in brief but serviceable roles. Jones is solid as the elder McBride as we see his steely non-compassionate way of communicating with his son that adds to the emotional toll of the film.

The real heart and soul of this movie is Pitt's performance. As he did with his portrayal of Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt is cool calm and collected. However, in Ad Astra he emotes so much with his face and eyes, shedding a lot of meaningful solemn tears along the way. Whenever he's on screen (which is quite a lot) you can't take your eyes off him. He simply gives a magnetic, raw and real performance that takes this movie to the next level. You really do feel how isolated he feels in his life and how he wishes he had more of an emotional relationship with his father.

While this film is not really in the same breath as Gravity or Interstellar it is certainly better than some recent sci-fi space efforts (The Martian, Life). This is despite a few completely unbelievable sequences in the last third of the film that help with Pitt's attempt to return from the far reaches of our solar system. The music of Max Richter helps enhance the calm of the movie and heightens the atmosphere of space. This is worthwhile viewing on as big a screen as possible. Go see Ad Astra and witness a movie star at the top of his game. Brad Pitt provides big time acting fuel for two of the 10 best films I've seen this year so-far.

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