Main cast: Brad Pitt (Major Roy McBride), Tommy Lee Jones (H Clifford McBride), Ruth Negga (Helen Lantos), Liv Tyler (Eve McBride), Donald Sutherland (Colonel Pruitt), John Ortiz (General Rivas), Greg Bryk (Chip Garnes), Loren Dean (Donald Stanford), John Finn (General Stroud), Kimberly Elise (Lorraine Deavers), Bobby Nish (Franklin Yoshida), LisaGay Hamilton (Adjutant General Amelia Vogel), Jamie Kennedy (Peter Bello), Donnie Keshawarz (Captain Lawrence Tanner), and Natasha Lyonne (Tanya Pincus)
Director: James Gray
Don’t be fooled by the trailer. Ad Astra isn’t a typical action-packed space adventure. Oh, it does have some action scenes now and then, but for the most part, it’s about Brad Pitt wanting to win an Oscar or something. Of late, he has been self producing many flicks aimed to garner as much critical acclaim for himself as possible, which makes sense as, at this stage in his career, he may as well go for broke and go out with a glow. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course – I’m just giving you folks an idea of what this movie is like. Plenty of zoom-ins on Mr Pitt’s brooding expression, so that we can look into his eyes and go, yes, yes, he is making us feel acutely his pain inside himself, so this is a really good movie, you all. I’m surprised this movie is only a little over two hours – given its glacial pacing and Brad Pitt’s “I am very smart, really” delivery of his many monologues in this movie, I feel like I had spent five hours watching this thing when the credits finally roll. Maybe they are saving that for the director’s cut.
Okay, the story first. In the future, mankind have finally managed to send people out to explore the solar system, and Major Roy McBride’s father Clifford – a legend in the US Space Command – is MIA. He and his team were sent to explore whether other intelligence life exists out there, and the whole team went MIA somewhere in the vicinity of Neptune. Now, mysterious… power surges, I guess, which is one way to describe the phenomena, appear to threaten the entire Solar System with dire destruction, and these surges originate from the same base that Clifford’s team was stationed in. What is happening? At any rate, Roy is asked to join a mission to head over there and, if Clifford is still alive, re-establish contact with him.
The journey will see them clashing with space bandits, killer baboons (don’t ask), and mutiny, but there is a far bigger threat in this movie: daddy issues. Yes, this is another story of a stoic, emotionally-hardened man who is the way he is because daddy didn’t hug him often enough when he was younger, and he has to travel to the edge of the galaxy just to find himself again – the twenty-first century take on a Hemingway novel, if you will. Sure, there are some altercations and deaths here and there, but the bulk of the movie is about Roy. Or Brad, as let’s face it, this movie will never let the audience forget that the main character is Brad Pitt. Here’s a close up on his anguished face… again, and here’s another anguished monologue about his inner demons and emotional turmoil, often set to dramatic melancholic music to remind me how deep this movie is, and how there is no icky whiff of genre despite the sci-fi aesthetics of this movie. Ad Astra is very smart, people!
Thus, the plot feels secondary. The arc between Clifford and his son is more about Brad finding himself and getting in touch with his humanity, so don’t expect a confrontation a la Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Don’t expect any satisfactory answers to the questions posed by the premise of this movie. It’s about the emotional journey of Manly Lonely Space Man Brad as he works out his daddy issues.
Not that this is a bad movie, mind you. Brad Pitt is one of those actors that become attractive only when they age, so I’m not complaining about those close-ups or focuses on him in this movie. However, given how long the whole thing feels, I expect a little more payoff to the whole dragged-out affair than “Okay, I’m over my daddy now, I’m going home to shag my wife!” One doesn’t have to make a two-hour space yarn to show me that!