Director: James Gray
Screenwriters: James Gray and Ethan Gross
Tommy Lee Jones
Runtime: 122 mins.
Australian release date: 19 September 2019
Previewed at: Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, in season.
Set sometime in the not too distant future, James Gray’s Ad Astra is a metaphysical space drama with a stellar (!) cast that includes Brad Pitt, as astronaut Major Roy McBride, in one of his most contemplative roles to date - a far cry from the character he played in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood recently. This is not your usual intergalactic drama, however, for it delves into the psyche of a man whose father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), disappeared in space years earlier while on a mission seeking the existence of intelligent beings in the solar system, the Lima Project. The absence of his father has left Roy unable to formulate steady relationships and he lacks any emotional depth as a result.
Roy's a man who obviously doesn’t suffer from acrophobia and, while working on a vertiginous space antenna, he is nearly killed when an extreme power surge creates havoc on the site - and it's just one of many such surges threatening the universe. He is subsequently informed by U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom), the branch of the US Armed Forces operating in space, that his father is possibly still alive and responsible for these power surges. After intense psychological tests, Roy is given the go-ahead to travel to Mars, via a commercial flight to the moon - well, it is the future - on a highly secret mission to find his dad and try to re-connect with him, thus putting an end to the surges... hopefully. Roy is accompanied by Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), who knew his father in the past. The mission is not without its drama though and, while on the moon, Roy encounters scavenging ‘pirates’ who are fighting over scarce resources, before he's despatched to Mars and then Neptune, the last place Clifford contacted SpaceCom from.
Pitt’s performance is mesmerizing and the camera captures his every expression and psychological state. He speaks of his response to anger and pain and how he just shuts off any reaction as a way of dealing with it. The loss of his father has ensnared him in an emotional wilderness and has had a profound effect on his relationship with his wife Eve (Liv Tyler). Director Gray, who writes or co-writes all his films’ scripts, as he has this one, once again delves into a world consumed by the importance of family bonds. As in Little Odessa, The Yards and We Own The Night, he seems fascinated by the power of the old Scottish proverb that ‘blood is thicker than water’ and the good and bad that stems from such allegiances. The wonderful wide-open space images are majestically captured by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and accompanied by Max Richter’s beautiful, haunting score.
Ad Astra is a film that is visually stirring - and not just when it lingers on Pitt’s features! - but it is also a sobering look at a future that may include the transfer of life from Earth to other planets. More than that, though, it explores the relationship between human beings and how a significant event in one’s life can change the way we perceive the world, how we juggle hope and despair, and how we can learn to restore life and love after loss.