Ad Astra is directed by James Gray and it is the latest artistic space movie, this time focusing on Roy, a calm and collected astronaut who travels a great deal in space in search of his father who may still be alive after years of being declared dead after a tragic space mission. This movie stars Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones.
Nowadays audiences are treated to blockbuster hits which take place on fictional planets and universes, movies which take the far-fetched route and go pure science fiction. Recent space movies like The Martian and Arrival feature less fiction and more science, they feel more grounded in reality than other sci-fi movies. James Gray’s Ad Astra is truly a movie which allows you to go on this journey with the lead character and truly feel lost in space. What Gray and Pitt manage to accomplish with this movie is remarkable. This movie takes place in the near future, where going on the moon feels like going to The Washington Monument. In this future, space travel is a common thing. Obviously for us this is something we see as extraordinary and yet for a movie which features such a futuristic and sci-fi approach to space travel, it feels like the most grounded and realistic space movie I’ve ever seen.
The best compliment I can give to Ad Astra is that at one point during the third act when watching Roy (Pitt) in deep space, it made me think like how an astronaut must think. How small we are in this massive universe. It goes to show how immersive this experience was. Watching it in Dolby probably helped. What makes Ad Astra stand out from other space movies is it’s ability to show space like never before, to truly take the audience on a trip to deep space and still make it feel realistic despite it’s heavy science-fiction approach. All of this is truly brought together by the emotional story that James Gray and Ethan Gross have written.
The basic plot of the movie is Roy finding out whether or not his father is still out there. The first two acts of this movie are incredibly slow, not much happens. There are some action scenes but they feel short because of the slow burn pacing. If I’m being perfectly honest, I was getting bored in the second act. I stayed focused and followed but there wasn’t that much to follow. That being said, this is done on purpose to truly set the tone and immerse the audience in the experience which it did. They’re also well-acted, well-directed and shot beautifully. The lighting, cinematography and use of colour is masterful. The sets are unique and impressive, visually this movie is stunning. However what made the movie for me is the third act which completely changes the type of movie this is.
Ad Astra means To The Stars which is incredibly fitting considering the movie’s message, it’s actually perfect. What I love about this is that the movie went out of it’s way to be hypnotic and full of awe but when it ends, it makes you realize that the movie wasn’t about space at all. It’s about humanity and how we are constantly looking for something bigger than us and in doing so, taking life on Earth for granted. To me that is simply brilliant to flip the purpose of the movie on it’s head at the last second and to make it work, it’s an amazing thing. Ironically the deeper Roy went into space, the better the movie got and the more he got to show his emotional range as an actor.
Even though this movie technically features a cast, Brad Pitt is the driving force of the entire movie. This is continuing to be a wonderful year for Pitt as after his great comedic role in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, he offers some contrast as he delivers a powerful and emotionally rich performance as Roy McBride. There are scenes where he rarely talks but still evokes a ton of emotion. For a movie which was heavily promoted as a space epic with tons of action, Pitt does an amazing job keeping the audience interested when nothing much happens in the second act. Even though his calm character is not an exciting one, he is not only intriguing bur he is the eyes of the audience, we experience everything with him.
Overall Ad Astra‘s awe and space spectacle make the movie worth the ticket however it’s the movie’s message on humanity which will take the audience by surprise and make them reflect. While the first two acts seem slow in order to get the “space experience” effect, the third act is considerably faster and it’s one of the rare cases where as the movie progresses it gets better. Ad Astra’s bold choice of making us reflect on humanity, something we see everyday instead of the cosmos despite it being a space movie is a brilliant choice and it sticks the landing.