AN arthouse movie disguised as a Hollywood blockbuster, this is certainly an ambitious film.
Its visuals are mind-blowing and it’s a career best from Brad Pitt, but falls just shy of being a masterpiece.
Pitt is Roy McBride, an astronaut renowned for never flapping, getting excited or showing much emotion at all. While his marriage has crumbled — Liv Tyler appears in her now recurring role as “Unlucky Wife Of Astronaut” — his career has (lol) rocketed. As with every single Hollywood film ever, he is living under the shadow of his father, Clifford.
McBride Snr is one of the most revered space explorers in history, his photo appearing next to Buzz Aldrin’s in Nasa’s Hall of Fame, but he has been missing, presumed dead, for 27 years after a voyage to Neptune as part of the mysterious Lima Project went awry.
Power surges from deep space are threatening the universe’s very existence, and some suspect McBride may be behind them, having gone insane on board his ship.
Young McBride is deemed their best shot at making contact with his dad and ultimately saving the world. As he accepts his mission and begins his journey to Neptune, he is joined by a brilliant Donald Sutherland as Colonel Pruitt.
Neptune is quite far away, so a couple of stop-offs are planned, with the mission being kept secret from anyone they cross. As the film slowly moves into its final act, Pitt’s incredible, understated performance shifts the film away from the brief sojourns that hinted at an excited action flick. Instead we are left to ponder man’s insignificant role in the grand scheme of things and whether we’re not necessarily created in the image of God, but in that of our father — not always a great thing.
First and foremost, this film looks utterly glorious, and its first hour sets a real mood and nuzzles it next to other space classics such as 2010, Contact, Interstellar, Moon and suchlike. Director James Gray’s hiring of Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema was a wise move. His mission to simultaneously delight and terrify us about space continues perfectly. I can’t state this enough — the first half of this film is utterly incredible, mind-blowing. Had it carried along that trajectory it would have unarguably been one of the greats.
The scenes when McBride arrives on the moon, with its perfectly pitched depiction of the inevitable commercialisation of moon flight, are the film’s best and most exciting, right up to the moment he is left alone to see the mission through. It’s at its worst when it withdraws into its own cleverness.
For a film with the sole intention of analysing the connection between humans, it has a distinct lack of heart. It peters out when it should have been basking.
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Not only that, but we’re either accurately depicting space or we aren’t. You can’t spend your time building a world for us to believe in and then have someone just, well, falling down in space. Gravity is played very loosely in Ad Astra.
Also, considering McBride Snr had been missing for 27 years, they didn’t exactly look very hard. It’s a mild spoiler but “We cannot make contact with him, we are doomed” turns into a couple of months in space and bingo, there he is in the last place you left him.
A welcome return to blockbuster leads for Brad Pitt, who carries the whole film, but such a shame it didn’t go the extra mile to keep the interest levels up.
Ad Astra (12A) 123mins
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