Director James Gray has constructed a nuanced and intimate journey of discovery and personal growth. One of unbridled spectacle, and at times, a penetrative darkness that is hard to shake.
Set in the near future, Brad Pitt stars as Roy Mcbride, the son of a famous and heroic astronaut and explorer. Pitt has taken the mantle from his father it seems and is known for being a calm, cool, and collected astronaut, even in the face of immense danger. The film starts with Pitt plummeting to earth after a catastrophic power surge. The surge is great enough to effect earth as well and a special mission is put together with Pitt at the forefront. The mission, to take out the source of the power surge, which they believe is coming from an antimatter device stationed near Neptune. The last known planet that a well known mission called project Lima was stationed near. Pitts father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) was the leader of this mission, whose objective was to explore the furthest reaches of our galaxy and search for intelligent life. Having long assumed his father was dead, Pitt now has to man a secret mission to Neptune and track down his father and stop the power surges.
The vast emptiness of space is the best backdrop for this story of personal crisis. The absence of his father and the feelings of anger and abandonment are mirrored by the loneliness and seclusion surrounding him throughout his journey. The internal struggle is realized externally and brilliantly photographed by Hoyte Van Hoytema. The claustrophobic interiors of space crafts rattling and shaking, the unmistakable feelings of helplessness being hurtled through the unknown. Each step of his journey is another step closer to his father but away from reality, away from himself. How far do you go to make a connection? At what lengths do you stretch, breaking your will and your mind, just for the sake of finding your calling. Begging the fates for your destruction, tempting god to show you the ultimate.
The greatness of space is the backdrop from the best moments, the intimate moments when Pitt, stricken with the realization that his father may actually be alive and he can speak with him, is moved to tears and at a loss for words. When he is so desperate to make contact that he is literally birthed out of water. In the end, with his rescue on earth, a hand is stretched out, reaching to pull him out of his crash landing. A human connection that will last, bringing him to a reunion with his estranged wife (Liv Tyler), realizing that it is better to have a connection with someone, to be grounded by love, and not lost in an abyss, drifting alone.
With some amazing acting from Brad Pitt and great supporting players like Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga, Ad Astra is quite an achievement. The moon battle is a spectacle in and of itself, the numerous space sequences and launches are absolutely stunning. Original Sci-Fi is something that fans seem to demand, but never show up to the theater to support. With more and more established directors planting their flags, I sincerely hope we continue to get more and more.