Entertainment » Movies

Ad Astra

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Tuesday Dec 3, 2019
'Ad Astra'
'Ad Astra'  

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In the opening moments of "Ad Astra," astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is in free-fall. Not in space, but some thousands of feet in the air when he is thrown off a mammoth, space communication tower that begins to violently shake for no discernible reason, sending McBride (and others) to the Earth thousands of feet below. He survives, of course, but not without a brush with death that sets James Gray's sober space epic off with a thrilling start.

The cause of the disaster — which turns out to be worldwide and has killed thousands — is an attack of radio waves emanating from a location somewhere near Neptune. Authorities fear another could not only destroy Earth but also the entire Solar System. Who is responsible for such an attack? (No. It's not Austin Powers.) U.S. authorities believe it is being caused by McBride's dad, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), a legendary astronaut who disappeared manning a dangerous mission to the far reaches of the solar system 30 years before. He was thought to be dead, but the attack suggests something different. A shaky video. which shows Clifford killing everyone on his mission but himself, appears to prove that he's gone bonkers and is set to bring down all life in the universe.

Yet does the laconic younger McBride have the right stuff for the mission? Space authorities believe so, and he is assigned to hop-scotch to the Moon and a remote location in Mars to send a message with hopes that a father-and-son communication might bring the attacks to an end. But McBride has his own daddy issues; Clifford disappeared when he was barely a teenager, leaving his son with abandonment issues that he neatly tucked away as he set out on his own career as an astronaut. That detachment has worked well for him professionally but has left him a disaster in his personal life. A brief scene shows his wife (Liv Tyler) walking out the door without saying a thing. There's no need to — McBride is an emotional vacuum.

But can he believe his father is such a monster? He agrees to travel to Mars to deliver the message with hopes that it is not true. It's not an easy journey. While on the Moon, seen in a high-relief, black-and-white landscape, his lunar rover is attacked by pirates; then on Mars... well, best not to give too much away, because "Ad Astra" (which means "to the stars") really is about the journey, not the destination.

It's a journey that's beautifully laid out by Gray, much like his most recent film, "The Lost City of Z," which featured a Victorian explorer spending his life searching for a mythical Amazon location he never finds. In "Ad Astra," the quest is more immediate and more personal. Pitt needs to resolve those daddy issues and save the world in the process.

Working with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and an amazing production design team, Gray creates an interstellar world that brings to mind the timeless splendor of "2001: A Space Odyssey," as well as that film's central mystery. Gray also brings to mind Terrence Malick with Pitt's self-reflective narration that compliments the action sequences. But those expecting an action-packed space epic along the lines of "Gravity" will likely be disappointed: "Ad Astra" is closer to "Arrival" and last year's "First Man" — carefully modulating action sequences, including a harrowing one in which Pitt must somehow hitch a ride on a departing space ship as it is about to launch, with ruminations on the enormous psychological damage that can come from the isolation of space travel. In space can somewhere hear you crack?

With his work in this film and in "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood," Pitt shows two sides of the same coin; the difference is that in the Tarantino film he is cocky and confident, while here he is conflicted and troubled, something that comes to the surface as his journey continues. And he owns the film, centering it with his cool determination and self-reflection. He is not that different from the astronaut Kerr Dullea played in "2001," and the film itself takes the same menacingly satiric approach to the government officials that send Pitt on his journey. The world that "Ad Astra" takes place in is sleek, fast and efficient - but it is also impersonal and downright devious. Pitt's big moment of choice happens when faced with their indifference to his personal drama, and it brings the film to its final act, which feels a bit less effective than what comes before.

Gray has some fun with his vision of the future: there is an enormous charge for a blanket on an commercial flight to the Moon; once there, he exits on a generic mall with Subways and Applebees, as if he landed in Dallas. But throughout there are hints at the great psychological baggage that comes with space exploration. The great Ruth Negga appears briefly as the commander of a base on Mars whose sadly recalls that her happiest memories are those visiting Earth when she was a teenager. (She has spent her entire life, except for this trip on Mars.) And w
+--hat turns out to be film's the most joyful moment comes when McBride's space ship re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. The message to this impeccably made, thoughtful spectacle may just be there's no place like home.

Ad Astra

Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride led a voyage into deep space, but the ship and crew were never heard from again. Now his son -- a fearless astronaut -- must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and a mysterious power surge that threatens the stability of the universe.


Runtime :: 124 mins
Release Date :: Sep 20, 2019
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States


Roy McBride :: Brad Pitt
H. Clifford McBride :: Tommy Jones
Helen Lantos :: Ruth Negga
Thomas Pruitt :: Donald Sutherland
Lorraine Deavers :: Kimberly Elise
Donald Stanford :: Loren Dean
Captain Lawrence Tanner :: Donnie Keshawarz
Willie Levant :: Sean Blakemore
Franklin Yoshida :: Bobby Nish
Adjutant General Vogel :: LisaGay Hamilton
Brigadier General Stroud :: John Finn
Lieutenant General Rivas :: John Ortiz
Captain Lu :: Freda Shen
Female Flight Attendant :: Kayla Adams
Arjun Dhariwal :: Ravi Kapoor
Eve :: Liv Tyler
Woman in White Pants/Shirt :: Elisa Perry
Sal :: Daniel Sauli
Sergeant Romano :: Kimmy Shields
Technician One :: Kunal Dudheker
Chip Garnes :: Greg Bryk
Janice Collins :: Alyson Reed


Director :: James Gray
Screenwriter :: James Gray
Screenwriter :: Ethan Gross
Roy McBride :: Brad Pitt
Producer :: Dede Gardner
Producer :: Jeremy Kleiner
Producer :: James Gray
Producer :: Anthony Katagas
Producer :: Rodrigo Teixeira
Producer :: Arnon Milchan
Executive Producer :: Marc Butan
Executive Producer :: Sophie Mas
Executive Producer :: Yu Dong
Executive Producer :: Jeffrey Chan
Executive Producer :: Anthony Mosawi
Executive Producer :: Paul Conway
Executive Producer :: Yariv Milchan
Executive Producer :: Michael Schaefer
Cinematographer :: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Film Editor :: John Axelrad
Film Editor :: Lee Haugen
Original Music :: Max Richter
Production Design :: Kevin Thompson
Supervising Art Direction :: Christa Munro
Art Director :: Kevin Constant
Art Director :: David Scott
Art Director :: Gary Warshaw
Costume Designer :: Albert Wolsky
Casting :: Douglas Aibel

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].

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