Movie Review: AD ASTRA Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Space movies enthrall me. Whether they’re based on science or entirely science-fiction, a good space film can really hit the right chords with me, and we’ve had an influx of really good ones in the past several years. Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian quickly come to mind when I think about the quiet isolation and hopelessness the characters in their respective movies face. Just remembering the feeling I felt during the minute and a half teaser for Gravity is triggering my anxiety as I type this.
Unfortunately, the feelings that I felt during moments of those films weren’t shared with the most recent Oscar hopeful space film, James Gray’s Ad Astra – at least, not for very long.
Ad Astra follows Brad Pitt’s character of astronaut Roy McBride in the near future where space travel is commercialized, recolonizing is in full swing, and apparently there are turf wars on the moon for some reason. We’re following McBride, however, because an epidemic is threatening all of mankind and his assumed-dead astronaut father (played by Tommy Lee Jones) may just very well be alive outside Neptune with the solution. Still following me?
Okay, I admit – I did make it sound a bit silly with the synopsis above, but there are some things to enjoy when taking in this film. First and foremost, the cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk, Interstellar) is absolutely breathtaking and easily the most memorable thing I took away from the film. From the very opening sequence, Hoytema captures the viewer’s eye with gorgeous imagery and he never slows down, despite the film itself doing so.
McBride is notorious for his ever steady heart rate, even in the stickiest of situations – making him appear to be the best of the best when it comes to being an astronaut. This, in turn, showcases his demeanor throughout the film as quiet and near emotionless, much like we saw with Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong in last year’s First Man. It was really hard to find anything relatable in him emotionally throughout the film, despite Pitt’s best efforts. I’ll take his performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the awards season.
Despite beautiful imagery and a decent performance by Pitt, I just couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the film. The supporting cast was good for the most part. It’s rare that Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones don’t deliver. Liv Tyler, on the other hand, was pretty much only there for reactionary shots and hammer home McBride’s emotional distance.
What I think I enjoyed most about Ad Astra (though frustratingly enough) were the concepts it presented throughout the film – but they were all just to enhance the setting and not ever entirely explored. At one point, McBride flies commercially to the moon and finds himself in the middle of a Mad Max film shortly after, where he’s warned that people who have recolonized there are in the middle of territory wars for mining resources. After an action set piece, I was left wanting more of that movie!
I get it though – the film isn’t about those moments. I was just bored by nearly everything else.