Ad Astra

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Ad Astra
dir James Gray
scr James Gray, Ethan Gross
prd Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner
with Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga, John Ortiz, Loren Dean, Kimberly Elise, Halszka Kuza, John Finn, Kimmy Shields, Sean Blakemore
release US/UK 20.Sep.19
19/US Fox 2h02

jones sutherland tyler

Sumptuously produced with seamless effects, introspective acting and some powerfully emotional undercurrents, this space opera stubbornly refuses to come together on either a logical or narrative level. At the centre is a father-son relationship that is never defined beyond hints of jealousy and indifference, using simplistic triggers rather than actual thematic resonance. And there are continual moments that make the audience go, "Huh?" Even so, it looks amazing.
In the "near future", Roy (Pitt) is working on a mind-bogglingly tall antenna when he's hired to head to Neptune on a mission to find his estranged explorer father Cliff (Jones), who went missing three decades ago and now has something to do with energy pulses that are threatening Earth. Travelling with Colonel Pruitt (Sutherland), Roy takes a commercial flight to the moon, which has become a lawless commercial outpost, before hopping a shuttle to Mars, then a deep-space rocket. But Roy isn't actually sure he wants to find his dad.
Essentially, this film combines the alone-in-space element from Gravity with the search for a mythical rogue figure in Apocalypse Now. The settings are superbly created, depicting space travel as something that has lost its sense of wonder. It looks as tedious as air travel is today, most notably with the shopping-mall moon base. Meanwhile, there are cool set-pieces such as a moon-buggy chase and an encounter with angry space monkeys. These are thrilling moments, even if they're utterly random to the plot.

Pitt's performance is strongly internalised, although it isn't helped by his whispery voiceover or mopey-blurry flashbacks to the wife (Tyler) who left him. With his craggy face and furrowed brow, Roy's churning emotions are vivid, and yet the script only notes the most general sense of loss: he misses his wife and the dad he never really knew. This means that both are essentially ghosts. So even when his father finally appears, Jones is little more than an older, craggier version of the undefined Roy.

Brief side characters inject a bit of energy into the story, most notably Sutherland but also Negga, Ortiz, Dean and others Roy encounters along the way. Pitt's star power gives the film some badly needed oomph, and everything is beautifully augmented by Hoyte van Hoytema's epic cinematography, Max Richter's plaintive score and lots of spectacular design and effects work. So it's a shame that the stoic father-son stuff ultimately feels so underwhelming.

cert 12 themes, violence 10.Sep.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall