When an unexplained phenomenon causes major electrical surges across the globe, astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is tasked with a top secret mission. It seems that the source of the phenomenon is Neptune, and is possibly linked to the "Lima Project" - a mission to search for intelligent alien life, long thought lost, which was led by Roy's estranged father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones). With the surges getting worse and more frequent, threatening all life on Earth, Roy will have to travel across the solar system and wrestle with his own inner demons, if he's going to save the human race and find out what really happened to his father.
There are some stunning vistas in James Gray's space travel epic, but as "The Lost City of Z" director demonstrates; journeying through the stars is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Ad Astra is possibly one of the most accurate depictions of life in space, and makes for an interesting look at commercial space travel in the near future. In case you're wondering what that looks like; it's a $125 blanket and pillow on a trip to the moon! Described as "Apocalypse Now in space" (a very accurate description), Pitt's Roy McBride will have to overcome many obstacles - both practically and personally - as he undertakes what is undoubtedly the most important and challenging journey of his life. A heart-pounding "Mad Max: Fury Road" style chase across the moon against literal space pirates is the first of many challenges, and also serves to highlight the legal and logistical ramifications of actually colonising the moon.
This is easily one of Pitt's best performances, it's a very grounded performance, and therefore very relatable. For his character it's as much a journey to the edge of sanity as it is into space. The prospect of reconnecting with his father, not to mention long bouts of isolation cause McBride to question the way he has led his own life and the relationships he has had, especially with his ex-wife Eve. Played brilliantly by Liv Tyler, Eve only has minuscule appearances throughout but she has a lasting effect on McBride and his decisions. In fact, many of the supporting cast - which includes three actors from "Space Cowboys"; Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Loren Dean - only feature in one or two scenes, however they all play key roles in McBride's mission. Sutherland is brilliant as the mysterious - almost untrustworthy - friend of the absentee father, as is Jones as the absentee father himself, a man more concerned with life off world rather than on Earth, including in his own family.
As you'd expect with a realistic depiction of space travel within an "Apocalypse Now" style movie, "Ad Astra" is more of a space drama than an action/space adventure. The story ticks along at a fairly slow pace, with incredible moments of nerve-racking excitement entwined. But all throughout there is an unnerving tension, and not just for the possible meeting of father and son. McBride is in a place where just about anything can go wrong, on a secret mission and unable to trust anyone, his sense of isolation is almost palpable (especially when watched in an almost empty cinema). All of which leaves the audience - unlike with other movies - wondering what is going to happen next, and where the story is taking them. Even McBride doesn't appear to really know what he's going to do. And it's all building towards a conclusion fraught with dangerous unknowns. One that when you finally get to it, could almost be described as anticlimactic...almost.
Despite being a rather slow burn, Ad Astra is a tense and gripping drama. One that makes for an interesting look into the near future of commercial space travel. You should definitely consider watching this on the biggest screen possible! For it may put you off the idea of leaving our little planet, but it will certainly give you a glimpse of the wonders that lie within the solar system we call home. And thanks to a brilliant story and some fantastic performances, it'll keep you guessing right up to the very end.
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