Ad Astra: Film Review

Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

A sci-fi starring Brad Pitt?! Yes, please! I had been excited for Ad Astra for quite some time, but, in all honesty, I was a bit disappointed. It’s good, but not at all what I expected.

Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride, who discovers his father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), may still be alive after leaving on a research mission to Neptune 30 years before. Officials believe McBride’s ship – The Lima Project – is responsible for The Surge, charges of electrical power threatening the solar system and life on Earth, so Roy goes on a mission to find his father and uncover the truth.

I went into Ad Astra expecting this action-packed sci-fi thriller but it’s actually a slower, quieter, more thoughtful drama. It may be set in the great expanse of space but it’s a very personal story about Roy dealing with issues of abandonment and solitude. His father leaving him and his mother when he was a teenager has clearly affected his personal relationships – especially with his estranged wife Eve (Liv Tyler) – and he needs to face the source of his pain to move on.

So it’s quite surprising that I didn’t emotionally connect with the film at all. I was watching it and marvelling at its beauty, but I didn’t really feel anything, it didn’t grab me on an emotional level, which is odd and I don’t know why that is. I felt like it was heading for this dramatic, emotional climax and I just didn’t get the pay-off I was after.

I also want to mention how little the other supporting cast members are in it. This is Brad Pitt’s movie, and he gives a very subtle and nuanced performance, but I’m surprised by how much press Ruth Negga and Tyler have been doing when they’re barely in it, just like Jones and Donald Sutherland as a fellow astronaut. I wanted more Negga!

However, Ad Astra has epic ambitions and pulls them off. It’s about more than the mission – Roy gets involved in all sorts of chaos as he travels across the solar system and it all shows how far one man will go to be reunited with his long lost father. There are also a couple of exciting moments that made me think it was heading in the thriller direction before it pulls back to the drama, but these – particularly the moon buggy chase and the mayday rescue – were still very welcome additions to the overarching plot.

James Gray has made a film which looks beautiful. The visuals are stunning and the score by Max Richter is gorgeous and evocative. I was gripped by the story and McBride’s journey and excited to see how it all panned out but something was missing on an emotional level. It wasn’t emotionally satisfying at all.

I saw Ad Astra during the 2019 Venice Film Festival. It hits cinemas on Friday 20th September 

Rating: 4/5

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