“AD ASTRA” is the latest from Brad Pitt who is having a great year career wise. This one is directed by James Grey who also partnered with Ethan Gross to pen the script. And alongside Pitt, this one also stars Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, and Liv Tyler. This is a science-fiction saga set in a nondescript future and centers on astronaut Roy McBride played by Brad Pitt. After a series of random atmospheric power surges with the source pointing to deep in the cosmos. McBride is called upon to travel across the solar system on a mission that will seek to find the truth about a doomed expedition his father took 30 years earlier. A deep space mission that he never returned from but also one that could be the origin of these deadly electrical bursts.
Going into this movie I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I figured it would be something in the realm between possibly “Apollo 13” and “Gravity” which yes, is a rather large gap. The trailers didn’t reveal too much plot-wise, so I enjoyed the element of the unknown that surrounded this film. Turns out, it was a much different tone of film than I was expecting. Something that was for the better as this movie steered away from the current, more traditional means of film-making in this genre. It isn’t as fast paced, and it doesn’t rely on action spectacle or creatures while it develops its plot-line. This movie may not be for everyone, but what it created is certainly able to stand out for its artistic approach and I loved it.
What this film delivers truly felt like an epic. It took me deep out into the universe like I had never been. The story was told with impressive visuals first, that were then complemented by the dialogue. The direction from Gray was pristine and at times showed strong inspirations of Stanley Kubrick and Terrance Malik. The use of silent imagery is able to capture various waves of needed intensity and it was beautifully crafted from nearly every facet. Gray uses routine lingering close-ups, paired with narration from Pitt that effectively lets the viewers imagination run free to form their own theories between the segments of tangible information it does provide.
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The moments of dialogue allow you to understand who this character is and what drives him. Then the camerawork and visual performance from Pitt proceed to effectively capture the emotional effects of the character. And blended together I feel it’s a complete package for creating a main character you instinctively can connect with and want to know more about. These character elements paired with incredible visual storytelling created fantastic spectacle that is incredibly immersive. This movie crafts a collection of sequences I haven’t seen before which is something I always appreciate. And other than one incredible chase-sequence out on the moon, I wouldn’t necessarily consider them action scenes either.
To me they were simply put, extremely intense situations that this unique story was able to create with authentic intent. Each of these moments had a huge impact on where the story would go after. And yes, it sounds cliché, but there were genuine unnerving and suspenseful moments in this film that had me on edge. The visuals pull you into the situations with Pitts character through a variety of camera techniques that all seam together beautifully. Added with amazing musical scoring from Max Richter and awesome sound-design overall that built a somber and ominous atmosphere. Perfectly heightening the emotion beats throughout the progression of McBride’s space mission.
Brad Pitt was all this film needed and more and he was phenomenal in this role, pouring a ton of emotional effort into his performance. With many drawn out close-up shots free of dialogue, Pitt was able to convey many emotional layers through his physical mannerisms and a charismatic passion in his eyes. I would never say Pitt has mailed in a role, but this one was a return to form for him as a leading man. Not simply in a film that fit nicely into a genre to sell some tickets. But as the lead in an immensely dramatic film that I think can certainly hold its own come awards season.
This was ‘A-List’ Brad Pitt doing what he has proven he can do over his career, that being to disappear into a role to make it his own. There’s an internal complexity to Roy McBride. He is distant from his wife. The abandonment from his father at a young age has had a massive impact on his psyche. His work is something that seems to inspire him, despite possibly haunting him as well as it never seems like his true calling. But what I liked about the writing in this one is that the character is well aware of all this. He knows the impact it has taken on his life yet hasn’t figured out the solution. He sort of just goes by as life passes, with a lost energy to him. Which creates a range of torment that Pitt was able to capture with complete authenticity.
This story is able to weave a science-fiction epic with a family drama like they were meant to be together. And with the McBride character consuming about 85% of the film, Pitt’s world-class performance is the perfect complement for the needs of the story. It creates a grounded intrigue, while delivering fantastical visuals and the result is a movie you can escape into. It’s intriguing because of its creativity and it maintains that curiosity and appeal throughout. The dialogue isn’t heavy, but it provides layers of meaning and had me completely invested in the journey. The writing also leaves layers of the world this story is set in up for the imagination. It’s the future yes, but how distance isn’t told which I found to be appealing. This story progresses in the world and time it’s in and leaves the viewer to fill in the rest. This does allow for some things in the story to be taken at face value, but it also lowers the feeling of certain things feeling convenient. Commercial travel to the moon is common, travel times to planets seems shorter which would presume advanced technology. Many smaller instances are showcased in the story and it was interesting to me.
This movie had me thinking more and more about this world as the silent imagery filled the screen and it was consistently engaging. Drawbacks would be very minor, but I would’ve liked more time added to showcase this fascinating world of the story. It was a character study set in space and while I loved it, I loved it enough to want more. It does feel complete as is, so it could be simple preference. I also felt like there were some gaps in the story. There were a few subtle jumps that could have been chalked up to simple edits, or they were intentional, but it made the story feel more like segments strung together in a couple places rather than a fluid story. Still though, it wasn’t a hindrance to this movie being able to completely capture my attention for two-hours.