Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ad Astra (2019)

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Ad Astra – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Director: James Gray

Synopsis: After the Earth experiences deadly power surges, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is recruited for a top secret space mission, in the belief that the events may be connected to his father’s own space mission that blasted off several years prior…

Review: Ever since humanity first blasted off into space back in 1961, there’s always been something of a fascination with what’s out there in the great chasm that is space, and the solar system. Indeed it is a subject that has inspired many filmmakers to try and approach this fascinating, and at the same time, terrifying void of eternal emptiness. Through all the space films that have graced the big screen over the years, one thing is crystal clear: being an astronaut takes some very serious guts.

Like his father before him, Roy McBride is an astronaut, and a damn good one at that too. When some unnatural power surges start to cause some problems back on Earth, a top secret briefing leads Roy back to the mission that his father Clifford (Jones) departed for several decades ago. Believing that said mission could pose some extremely serious risks to the survival of humanity, Roy must venture deep into the unforgiving world of space in the pursuit of his seemingly long lost father, and the answers to some essential questions that NASA believe Clifford possesses, that could be integral to humanity’s survival.

Given that the majority of the film features his character’s crucial mission, the entire movie is resting on Brad Pitt’s shoulders. It’s a responsibility he carries faultlessly as he turns in a very subdued, sombre, but yet extremely powerful performance. Though regrettably, the fact that Roy’s main mission is the focus for the majority of the film, it means that pretty much every other member of this cast is severely underutilised. None of them have enough screen time to make you care about their plight, which is frustrating as there definitely was potential for a further exploration of some of the other characters’s stories. This is especially frustrating when considering the talent of some of these actors and this is best exemplified by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her performance from Roy’s distant wife, played by Liv Tyler.

After going on an interstellar journey with Christopher Nolan, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography gives the film a rich visual majesty that perfectly captures the beauty and the terror that is space in equal measure. The production design and visual effects are so meticulously crafted, it makes it feel like the cast and crew actually went to the Moon and to the other planets beyond to film. James Gray’s screenplay, co-written with Ethan Gross, is cognitive and thoughtful. There are one or two action set pieces to get the pulses racing, but the film’s pacing is patient and methodical. There’s been no shortage of space films that have had awe-inspiring, heart-pounding intense scores, but Max Richter’s haunting, powerful score is right up there with the very best of them.

Though the film is not, and was never intending to be, an enthralling action spectacle set in the deepest depths of space. The film’s deliberately slowed-down pacing may begin to test the patience of the audience, particularly once the third act has come into view. Though not bereft of drama, the screenplay has some thought-provoking and bold ideas behind it. However. it doesn’t come nearly as close as other recent films of this genre in crafting something that has resonated as strongly as previous space films. Though if anyone was scared of space beforehand, after watching this, it will only reinforce their perspective that space is absolutely, completely terrifying.

Like astronauts themselves, the story’s extremely ambitious. However, even with an excellent performance from Brad Pitt, and some striking visuals, this thought-provoking adventure aims for the stars, but only just falls short.  

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