by Kevin Muller
Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, was groundbreaking because it took viewers on a miraculous journey that displayed revolutionary film making. It also inspired countless directors and writers to create films of similar nature, with its beautiful visuals and psychedelic nature, that were either were respectful imitators or just flat out disasters. James Gray, who brought us the severely underrated 2016 The Lost City of Z, has now directed a space film that has hints of Kubrick. Does his film soar like a rocket or get lost in space?
Brad Pitt, who is having a hell of a year with this performance and the one he gives in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, plays Roy McBride. McBride, is a celebrated astronaut that never falters under the pressure of his job. This is told to us through his recorded heartbeats that never reach panic levels, even when he is in sticky situations, as with the beautifully filmed opening disaster that happens above Earth’s surface. The U.S. Space Command has information about Project Lima, and its ship that has been missing for close to 30 years. One specific passenger was a legend that brought much attention, faith, and cash to the program. He was also McBride’s father, who he hasn’t seen since he was a child. In a twist of events, and to the surprise of McBride, his father, Cliff, is alive near the planet Neptune. New recordings have been found that suggest his father maybe alive. McBride decides to travel across the galaxy to recover his dad.
One of the strongest parts of this film is the production value. The futuristic setting of outer space is beautifully realized. Humans have colonized the moon and have turned it into something that is reminiscent of New York City’s Pennsylvania Station, complete with fast food restaurants, tourist attractions, and overly obnoxious flair, such as cutouts of stereotypical aliens. While the world is sleek, it does possess the filthy look of a place that has constant traffic. Outside of the space stations, the look of the outer parts of the galaxy and some of its planets, are breath taking. Gray’s film is beautifully filmed by Hoyte Van Hoytema. While the camera is mostly locked tight on Pitt’s face, adding to his amazing performance, Hoytema makes Gray’s vision pop with vivid colors and unforgettable imagery. It truly is one of the most gorgeous films to come out this year.
This is one of the more subtle performances of Pitt’s career. Gray’s screenplay calls for the actor to do voice over monologues in a very low and drab voice. While the movie, and his delivery, are a bit slow for its own good, Pitt does a hell of a job selling the complicated nature of McBride. His weathered face carries all the hurt, regret, and lost love of a man who just wants answers. Pitt throws in certain tics that shows the underneath his stoic exterior, his inner hurt is clawing to get out. While I believe his performance in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will get more attention, this is one that shouldn’t be looked over. It is an incredibly mature performance from a man who is just as good as an actor as he is a heartthrob.
Ad Astra doesn’t have mass appeal like most films that its star has been in. It takes its time in its story telling, which does provide some interesting twists and turns. James Gray’s film does display space as mysterious, dangerous, and wonderful all at the same time. The pacing issues, at select times, is overshadowed by the production and Gray’s interpretation of the vast galaxy that lies beyond Earth. For such a large canvas, his vision is mostly inspiring.
I am giving Ad Astra a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!