Ad Astra

Ad Astra is a beautifully shot film with a slow deliberate pace that asks a lot of its audience. It’s absolutely worth watching, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

The film is set in the not too distant future. Roy McBride is a technician working on a giant antenna that extends from earth into space. This type of work was once the territory of astronauts and heroes, but now looks like any other job. On an average day, a shock wave from space shorts out the antenna and sends Roy careening down toward the earth’s surface. This sequence is absolutely stunning. The special effects are seamless. The way it is shot makes the audience feel as if they are plummeting with Roy. It is beautiful and thrilling.

However this fall had little impact on Roy. His pulse never exceeded 80 bpm. This is a man totally divorced from his emotions. His near death experience never even raised his pulse. The rest of the movie seeks to dive inside this mans mind and figure out who he is and why he has erected these walls around his inner self.

The plot concerns Roy’s father Clifford, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who was the most decorated and celebrated astronaut in history. 29 years previously Clifford flew out to Neptune to seek out intelligent life in the cosmos. He disappeared. The government believes that Clifford’s project has something to do with the shock wave that nearly killed Roy. They send Roy out to try to make contact with his father. Roy’s journey to find his father is told in slow deliberate scenes that tear down Roy’s walls and expose the raw nerves that govern his behavior.

The trailers sell this movie as an action film. It looks like Interstellar with gun fights. It’s not that. It’s a personal drama told in grand sweeping visuals and deep resonant close ups. Brad Pitt is this movie. He inhabits Roy. He is utterly convincing in this role. He is contained and communicates a million nuances with his every look. This is a performance that demands close attention. This isn’t a movie that can be viewed in the background. Cell phones off and eyes on the screen or a brilliant performance will be totally lost on the viewer. As Roy’s journey takes him to the moon then to Mars, Brad Pitt shows the layers peeling away in stunning moments of small details. It’s an absolutely brilliant example of film acting.

The film is dedicated to a realistic depiction of what the future might look like. The space craft in this film look familiar enough to be believable. The film goes to great lengths to show what space travel will probably look like in the future. It is slow, but it is possible. The film genuinely feels like a glimpse into the future. Every detail feels right and real. If the future doesn’t look like this film I’ll be very surprised.

There are a quite a few detractors though. It is a slow film. The unfolds and takes its time. It doesn’t rush to the next big climax, and in a world of superheroes and fast talking tv shows, this film runs its own race. It takes its time showing Roy’s journey because there aren’t easy or quick answers for what he’s going through.

The other problem is that the film really only has one decent role. Roy is the only character that is developed and explored here. A lot of great actors drop by for a few lines or just a few words in some cases, then they disappear. This is a little bit baffling. Why hire great actors to say three words and then leave the movie? With each cameo, it distracts from the narrative. However, the lack of other characters does display Roy’s isolation. He is alone because of the emotional blocks he’s dealing with. The film is about one man’s loneliness and isolation. He doesn’t have anyone. He doesn’t have any connections. This film only has one character.

Reading about the film, it seems people have felt disappointed by the ending. The movie’s message isn’t about a big conclusion or a big Hollywood ending. It is a small emotional conclusion that befits the small intimate character at the story’s center. For me the ending was a massive release after a tightly wound emotional film. The tension of the film is wrapped up in Roy’s emotional condition, and to see this conclusion felt like a massive release.

This film really worked for me. It has great images, great set pieces, and a great performance at its center. For some it’ll be too slow and too subtle to leave an impact. If you want to pay attention to a movie that will pay you back for that attention, this is a visual feast that will not disappoint.

It is my cup of tea – A-

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