Friday, September 20, 2019

Ad Astra

Ad Astra is a slow, thoughtful film at least as interested in the character study of an astronaut as the dangers lurking in outer space. Set in the "near future," Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride sent to Mars on a top secret mission to end the power surges that are affecting the planet (and nearly killing Roy in the opening scene). The surges are coming from the edge of the solar system where Roy's father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) and his expedition disappeared decades ago.

While not as engaging as The Martian or as ambitious as Gravity or Contact, Ad Astra does provide a fine performance by Pitt to center its story. The always reliable, but not remarkable, McBride is put through the paces in the latest mission that gets personal far too easily for the stoic astronaut who has made a career by ignoring his feelings.

Sci-fi fans will no doubt enjoy various space obstacles that Roy will struggle to work through in order to reach Neptune, although there's no much we haven't seen done better before (and the space monkeys are best forgotten altogether).

The rest of the cast is fine, but have so little combined screentime they aren't worth mentioning here. The film is centered on Pitt who carries the character study through its natural conclusion (and beyond as the film languishes a bit extending the ending). The possibility that his long-lost father may be alive light-years from Earth will force the astronaut not only to reexamine his relationship with his father but also his failed marriage and the status quo of keeping those around him at an emotional distance. Writer/director James Gray also delivers a visually interesting backdrop, tweaking the current look of the space program (even if it is a bit overly optimistic to imagine humanity having colonies on both the moon and Mars in the "near future.")

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