Director: James Gray
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga and Donald Sutherland
Set in the near future, in a world that isn’t too hard to imagine, tourist trips to the Moon, courtesy of Virgin Galactic of course, are an everyday occurrence and transport you to a whole new world. Granted, some things never change as this one has a shopping centre complete with an Apple store. Probably a Starbucks too.
A series of cosmic storms have been causing havoc on earth and they’re believed to be caused by NASA’s most decorated astronaut, Clifford McBride (Jones), and his involvement with the search for extra-terrestrial life, known as the Lima Project. It’s up to his son, Roy (Pitt), also an astronaut, to begin an epic journey across billions of miles to locate his father and prevent further catastrophe. As he explores the emotional difficulties brought on by solitude in space and, indeed, his fragile relationship with a man he believed to be dead, Roy’s voyage takes a sinister turn as truths are revealed and sacrifices are made.
His journey is fraught with danger as he goes from planet to planet (does that make him a space hopper?) and thanks to some outstanding cinematography we share the intimacy of his journey whilst at the same time experiencing the vastness of the galaxy surrounding him. On a lesser actor’s shoulders the lack of dialogue and limited action could’ve created a black hole of gargantuan proportions, but Pitt’s natural charisma and ability to communicate so much through doing so little, highlight his star power.
There are a few pacing issues, with a lull in the second third of the film, but there are thrills and scares along the way including a vertigo inducing opening, some unexpected monkey business and a fast and furious Moon-buggy chase. A pulsating score by Lorne Balfe and Max Richter takes you to infinity and beyond and almost feels like an extra character, but there are also moments of silence and poignancy as the vastness of the cosmos is left to speak for itself.
Although this is very much Pitt’s film, it’s worth mentioning Ruth Negga’s understated performance as Helen Lantos, a woman with her own issues involving Roy’s dad and Donald Sutherland brings a touch of class to his brief screen time. Liv Tyler turns up every now and then, mainly in flashback, but doesn’t have anything to do whatsoever.
Best viewed on a big screen, Ad Astra is visually stunning and examines some of the complex existential issues so relevant today, and at its heart is a simple story about the colossal void the absence of a parent can leave.
Ad Astra rockets into UK cinemas on September 18th.
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Film reviewer for Time and Leisure Magazine, The Movie Waffler and We Are Cult.
Former actor (a regular in The Bill) and voiceover artist with Rhubarb Voices.