Directed by: James Gray
Written by: James Gray & Ethan Gross
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland
Space has always been a realm of exploration for humanity. Going to the moon has become a moment etched into the minds of Americans who witnessed the launch. The name Neil Armstrong remains a name most common people know because of being the first person to actually step on the moon. Humanity always pushes to go beyond and see what else the galaxy has to offer, which includes missions going to Mars and whatever future planets we stretch to. Ad Astra takes place in a future where deep space travel is more feasible and it examines how our ambition can turn into extremism.
Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) hs built a reputation for always being calm as displayed by the psychological evaluations he must regularly take. Even under the most stressful situations, his blood pressure never ventures too far from normal. A condition tested when he hears the news about his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), who was thought to be lost on an expedition but evidence shows he might possibly alive. Roy receives orders to assist in an attempt to contact his father, because of some potential nefarious material being at play.
With Ad Astra, I expected it to be a decent space film and turned into something much more extraordinary in every single way. The main throughline of this film lies in the relationship between Roy and his father, or lack thereof. Roy always looked up to his father, who became an astronaut. He looked up to him so much that he followed through with the same career. The expedition that took Roy’s father away became one equal to sacrifice in war because he died trying to advance the world of science. This film brilliantly deconstructs their relationship but also breaks down the idea as to what a man should be.
Roy has a very stoic demeanor, which he received from his father, where emotion had to be held back for the sake of being a man. That particular stoicism makes Roy such a success in his field. He remains completely calm even in the midst of upcoming disaster because that’s how he was raised and what he thought to be the defining feature of manhood. This type of reasoning is not isolated to just Roy’s experience. Men around the world have been presented this ideal where they must provide for their families and hide their emotions because of the perception of weakness. Roy confronts this ideal and his father in a mission wrought with scenarios that test his idea of manhood.
The film also looks at the influences of capitalism and how it goes galactic. We enter this world where a trip to the moon has become as commonplace as a commercial flight to Europe. Anyone can go, and they can even pay several hundred dollars for a blanket, which I found to be a nice touch about the expensive amenities when traveling by plane. When arriving on the moon, Roy essentially enters a mall with many of the same stores and eateries one would see at their local shopping area. There are also moon pirates! Awesome, right? They provide one of the few action sequences in the film and the way utilized sound when these moon pirates attack Roy’s convoy is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Not enough can be said about Brad Pitt and the tremendous work he put into this performance. It’s certainly a more subdued performance but the work he does with his face where he processes stress and the emotionally tumultuous journey he’s embarking on demonstrates next-level for his career. Ad Astra serves as an internal battle for Roy and Brad Pitt successfully conveys that fight. I believe this performance to be career-best work for him, as he continues to refine his skills as an actor.
Additionally, James Gray must be commended for his incredible direction and deft behind the camera. This production can aptly be called a space film if directed by Terrence Malick, because of the reflection the character undergoes in this journey. Filled with plenty of voiceovers, which might not be for everyone, but I found to be incredibly effective. Ad Astra serves to tell the story of Roy and his journey. A strong supporting cast trickles in throughout the story but don’t have much to work with, but I also didn’t mind it because it’s all about Roy as the audience listens to his thoughts and how he experiences everything happening to him.
I was pleasantly surprised by how immersing this viewing experience became, as it handles heavy topics in a very mature way and has a deeply satisfying conclusion. Ad Astra becomes very meditative but done so with a strong purpose. An incredible success by everyone involved and it kept my interest in space films strongly alive because entering space provides some strong existential dilemmas. Space shows just minuscule and insignificant we are in this galaxy. Earth isn’t the biggest planet and our galaxy merely represents one of many. A perfect setting for self-reflection and this film does it exceptionally well.