Ad Astra, the Latin phrase, meaning “to the stars”. If you were to pick a defining element of the past decade in film, you wouldn’t be mistaken or wrong by saying the space-epic. With a stellar-range of ace films, including: Interstellar, First Man, Gravity, High Life and The Martian, Ad Astra continues the trend of outstanding films.
It’s an existential tale examining the underpinning of a father-son relationship, and Pitt’s character’s psychological process in his hardest voyage to the acceptance of himself. There is a constant narration, a narration told in a reflective way, highlighting some major inner-thoughts as we gaze upon the visual happenings. This self-reflection is essential in Roy McBride’s (Brad Pitt) perception of his self-worth and his odyssey into darkness acts as a journey in self-discovery.
Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system, specifically to Neptune, to find his long-missing father and potentially eradicate him and his life’s work. Roy unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet, the reason for the need to destroy Clifford McBride’s (Tommy Lee Jones) project is that a surge that threatens the world seems to have originated at his fathers location. His journey uncovers secrets that challenge his existence and morality, he must confront the long-casting shadow that his father left upon him. Taking a commercial flight to the moon, his classified mission requires him to take off again, but this time, to Mars – to try and send a long-range communication to the Lima Project’s last known location.
Brad Pitt’s performance is wondrously inward, the subtly shown in comparison to his pitch-perfect role in Tarantino’s latest is example of the versatility he can tap into – he is beyond outstanding. The looming figure that Pitt’s Roy is in search for, is his father, played by the just-as-subtle Tommy Lee Jones. Both Pitt and Jones deliver Oscar-worthy performances, what is acted is felt, nothing is showy – but a calming sense of quiet, now that takes skill.
The pair of them are perfectly matched with James Gray’s masterful direction, there is a calming nature to his camera’s movement and visuals, in that the camera adopts the relaxing eyes of Roy McBride. With the slow push-ins, pans and static shots, Gray shows a masterful sense of control in imitating the slow-movement of space. Max Richter’s score is breathtaking, it’s to be in absolute awe of, the mystifying journey in music he parallels to the visual space odyssey reflects perfectly. Having shot one of the decade-defining films, Interstellar, Hoyte van Hoytema returns to space with another majestic take on the some-what empty void of space. Hoytema and Gray seem to move in perfect unison, it is quite simply a thing of beauty to marvel at.
There is a constant evaluation examining the psychological state of Roy, everyone is always shocked by his steady heart-rate, only to eventually spike and that is when his journey begins – it is that voyage to outer space that allows him to become his true self. Roy’s father is the lingering shadow that has defined and engulfed his life, with his meeting of his father, all is revealed. There is a biblical element to Roy’s journey, in that it is some-what of a reversal of Abraham’s story, with his preparation to do what is necessary to his father. Yet, allowing him the choice to be the human Roy hopes he is, that sense of hope is engulfed in the very-core-nature of himself, in that he has always hoped he’d be what he imagined. Pitt’s performance allows for Roy’s journey to anchored by hope, we feel for him and want all to be well, we admire his bravery, and instinctively loath his father for abandoning him. That is human nature, yet, his father has lost all that, but all Roy can do is hope.
Unlike his first fall and return to earth, Roy after his voyage to the Lima Project, discovers his meaning and his sense of purpose. With the burden of his father gone, what he ignored becomes important and his return to earth is of vital importance. That desire, that feeling of instinctive survival, it pulls him back down to earth in a literal and inner sense.
Ad Astra is a masterfully existential film, examining the underpinning of human nature, and the process in the voyage to acceptance of oneself. Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones have their Oscars hopefully waiting.
5/5 Stars ★★★★★