Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Director: James Gray
Running Time: 122 mins
Ad Astra is an American film about an astronaut who is recruited for a mission to contact and retrieve his father, lost out near Neptune, and whose whereabouts may hold the key to saving the solar system from an out-of-control threat.
Audacious, striking and brilliantly cerebral, Ad Astra stands out as one of the boldest space movies of recent years. Blending gorgeous and often overbearingly impressive visual effects with an intimate and intelligent story, the film has all the majesty and depth of countless sci-fi classics, even if it doesn’t quite fulfil its dramatic potential.
In that, Ad Astra isn’t quite perfect, but we’ll get onto that in a moment, because there’s no avoiding just how spectacular and bold a film this is. Principally a visual masterpiece at every moment, Ad Astra paints a vivid and potentially prophetic portrayal of humanity’s first steps out into the stars, all the while keeping its feet firmly on the ground with a realistic vision of the near future, standing shoulder to shoulder with Christopher Nolan’s equally spellbinding painting of the future in Interstellar.
Brought to life by gorgeous, elegant visual effects that paint the terrifying and glorious majesty of outer space in breathtaking fashion, it’s a film that often feels overwhelming, but so stunning that it’s difficult to take your eyes away from.
But more than just a technical and visual masterpiece, Ad Astra is a brilliantly intelligent, patient and most of all pensive film. For all its sci-fi mastery and imagination, the core of this story takes place on the smallest of scales, following the inner emotional turmoil of one man as his entire worldview and personal mentality.
Reminiscent of both Kubrick’s legendary 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tarkovsky’s unsettling psychodrama Solaris, Ad Astra plays out with the boldness to tackle an intimate, emotional story that plays into wider, universal themes of humanity and the future.
Centring around one astronaut who finds himself in a period of deep emotional turmoil as he’s recruited to assist in the search for his long-missing father, the film spends almost its entirety focused on his face, his struggles and his emotions, and with a calm yet extremely expressive lead performance from Brad Pitt, Ad Astra is filled with riveting and often deeply affecting human drama alongside its majestic space opera.
As a result, the film does play out at a slower, more pensive pace than you may at first expect (particularly given its heart-stopping opening sequence), but in that it manages to bring some genuinely brilliant and cerebral drama to the table, absolutely befitting of a film that takes on space and the future of humanity in such bold fashion.
With that said, however, I can’t say that I was entirely blown away by Ad Astra’s emotional power. Intelligent, bold and on occasions affecting it may be, but it is a film that, unfortunately, lacks the real depth to support its lofty dramatic ambitions.
While the film deserves plaudits for its bold approach, not choosing to spell out its drama or its main character’s emotional struggles for you, it misses out on really hammering home the immense distress and turmoil in his head, something that could have been achieved with just a little more exposition and background on his personal history, as elements of the story surrounding his father and wife just don’t have the emotional punch they really ought to.
Saying that, though, Ad Astra deserves all the praise in the world for its audacious and ambitious style, and although it’s not a perfect film, missing out on truly astonishing dramatic and emotional power, it is a hugely impressive film that not only features gorgeous visuals and brilliant, vivid imagination, but also an enthralling, intimate emotional core, a cerebral screenplay, and an incredibly striking lead turn from Brad Pitt, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.3 overall.