Kennedy London, Associate Arts & Entertainment Editor
After two delays and extensive post-production, Director James Gray’s long-awaited science fiction epic “Ad Astra” has finally been released. A good amount of expectations weigh on this film due to the talented people behind it. I am happy to report that this stands as one of the best films of 2019 and is among the great space movies of this decade along side “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” and “First Man.”
“Ad Astra” takes place in the near-future where astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is tasked with the dangerous mission of finding his thought-to-be-dead father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) stationed near Neptune. A power surge has hit Earth and other colonies in the Solar System. Clifford’s mission, The Lima Project, is set to be the cause of this massive surge. Roy must travel from colony to colony in order to not only find and stop his father, but also cope with the regrets and demons he has been dealing with for decades.
“Ad Astra” is a haunting, sobering, thought-provoking, and dazzling science fiction epic that beautifully tackles with the themes of family, isolation, purpose, the human will, and sacrifice. It excels at crafting a story that is impactful and extremely patient, along with delivering spellbinding visuals.
The primary theme of this film is what are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your purpose. It is something that haunts the character of Roy and he feels his father abandoned him and his mother. Roy does not want to become like his father and he wants to do anything to cut that piece of himself off.
The film also deals with the dangers of space itself and how it can fracture humanity. How the endless void is seen as the future, but the further humanity goes into the void, the more humanity can be lost.
Brad Pitt is absolutely sublime as Roy McBride. He brings such a quiet rage to the character and you can feel all of the regrets, anger, sadness, and loneliness that he portrays on screen. Often, Pitt would cover Roy’s anger and confusion with a cold yet confident look, but you can always tell that he is on the edge.
The supporting cast includes Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga as Mars Facility Director Helen Lantos, Liv Tyler as Eve McBride, and Donald Sutherland as Colonel Thomas Pruitt. Jones is quite devastating as Clifford and Negga’s Lantos is laser-focused.
James Gray’s direction is incredibly patient. He allows the story to breathe, the emotions to fully run their course, and the visuals to stick into the subconscious. It is meticulous in its design and Gray makes the most of the emotional beats of the story as well as the shots of the several planets and endless void of space.
Speaking of which, the visual effects are an absolute marvel to behold. The vast and wide shots of space along with the more intimate and enclosed interiors do not leave your mind. The visuals, combined with Hoyte van Hoytema’s breathtaking cinematography, are front and center and leave quite the mental print.
The screenplay written by Gray and Ethan Gross is an ambitious one because they are trying to tell a story that is grand as well as personal. The obsession with space and discovery is interwoven with the personal human struggle of adjusting to these extreme circumstances. They mostly achieve this balance well.
Max Richter’s musical score is brilliant as well as atmospheric. It puts you in the mood of despair, wonder, and emotion when it needs to to so.
James Gray’s goal of the film was to portray space as “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie and to basically say, ‘space is awfully hostile to us.” He excels in the hostility department and mostly succeeds with the realistic depiction. There is one eyebrow-raising scene towards the film’s end regarding the realism, but nothing else sticks out.
Overall, “Ad Astra” succeeds at nearly every level. The performances, direction, script, visuals, themes, and more are all great with Brad Pitt and James Gray leading the charge. After both of the early year delays, we can finally breathe easy.