Movie Review: Ad Astra

Simple Review: Brad’s bad space-dad

Greetings fellow film fanatics! I have missed our little expeditions into the wonderful world of cinema and I finally have a reason to invite you all back into my life, the new film Ad Astra. Who doesn’t get excited at the prospect of a new science fiction movie? The added benefit of reviewing this particular sci-fi feature is that it stars Brad Pitt so I might actually get some female readers this time! With that in mind, I will try my best to bring my A-game to this review so as to impress the ladies with my wit and charm. So let’s take our protein pills and put our helmets on to explore this space oddity for the verdict on Ad Astra.

I believe it was Luke Skywalker who once said that space is the final frontier and as such we have all longed to search the cosmos for the answers to the mysteries hidden among the stars. Unfortunately, peering into the infinite void of space can have repercussions for the intrepid few who dare to hurl themselves out into the universe, and the families that these searchers leave behind on good ole planet Earth. Ad Astra follows astronaut Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, as he is sent on a mission to find his father, a heroic astronaut in his own right that went searching for extraterrestrial life. As Roy travels further into space he has to deal with the knowledge that his father isn’t the hero he yearned to be like, and letting go may be more difficult than he bargained for. Did Ad Astra successfully deliver an interesting science fiction story or did it get lost in space? Read on my intrepid cosmonauts, read on.

Director James Gray and writer Ethan Gross have crafted a beautiful and detailed film using the backdrop of space exploration in the near future to tell the story of a man struggling to come to terms with new revelations about his father, as well as who he is as a man and his place in the universe. As a sci-fi geek, I appreciate not only the look of the film but the small details that pull you into this vision of the future. Visually, this is a gorgeous film capturing the beauty of our solar system and reminding us just how small we are in the cosmos. Gray does an incredible job using color, light and immersive camera work to build Roy’s journey deep into space and put you right there next to him. While the gorgeous shots used during the space scenes are impressive I enjoyed the small details in the film that seemed to draw me further into this universe. As Roy travels from the Earth to the moon to Mars the soldiers in the background have different camouflage uniforms for each environment. That may seem like an insignificant detail, but it shows how much effort the filmmakers took to make this as realistic as possible, instead of being lazy and recycling the same uniforms. All the spacecraft in the film had retro-ish switches and dials instead of fancy touch screen computers which, again, is a great way to keep a touch of reality. My favorite little detail was a top-secret computer file that was given to Roy on a flash drive with the flash drive made to look like the old manilla floders used in every spy movie ever. It was a cool little detail that didn’t need to be there but brought a smile to my face, and, dang it, I need to smile more!

The film is well cast with Brad Pitt being asked to deliver the most important performance in the movie as our hero, Roy. Roy starts the movie as a man driven to follow in his father’s footsteps to the point he commits the same selfish acts on his way to his goals. As he learns more about his father, Roy has to deal with emotions that he has compartmentalized his whole life, causing him to struggle to complete his mission. It is important that Roy’s emotional journey is given the right performance to draw the audience in, and Pitt surprised me by giving one of his better performances. Brad Pitt has always been hit or miss with me as an actor, but I have been impressed with his film choices. He doesn’t simply go for roles that play to his sex symbol status and has ventured into movies that need him to do more than look hunky. He does an exceptional job showing Roy’s journey from almost robotic company man to a middle-aged man dealing with loss, regret and emptiness. He carries the movie and, honestly, I enjoyed this performance more than his role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tommy Lee Jones has a small but important role as Roy’s father and, as always, Tommy Lee is excellent. Being both cruel and sympathetic is a difficult thing to do in a character and Tommy Lee is able to pull off that balance. It was fun to see Donald Sutherland and Liv Tyler in the film, as they are not strangers to sci-fi flicks being in movies like Space Cowboys and Armageddon. I am curious if Pitt’s character was named Roy as a subtle reference to Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’ll have to ask Brad the next time we hang out.

As good as Ad Astra is it does have it’s fair share of flaws that keep it from being the “masterpiece” others have claimed it is. The story, while framed in a new environment, is still not very original and I had several moments of saying to myself, ” this is like that scene in such and such movie.” Roy’s character arc is similar to Sandra Bullocks in the film Gravity, which makes the ending, while satisfying, a tad familiar. While I understand this is a movie, there were moments when things were being done in space or on the moon that did pass the point of being realistic and entered the realm of a screenwriter needing to get a character from point A to point B and ignoring realism. Now, this next issue isn’t as much criticism as pointing out two moments in the film that felt out of place in the story. If you have seen the trailer for this movie, then you have seen the moon buggy chase scene that, while fun to watch, felt completely out of place with the tone of the rest of the movie. It was like the filmmakers thought the movie was dragging so they threw in a chase scene to keep us mouth breathers happy. The other moment involves a distress call from a derelict spacecraft that veers the movie off into a horror movie type scenario. Again, it was fun to watch but felt unnecessary to the plot of the film.

We have reached the end of our long trek through the stars and it’s time for me to get my ass to Mars so I can help my friend Richter get ready for a party we have been invited to, so let’s wrap this up! Overall I enjoyed Ad Astra and recommend it to anyone looking for a beautifully shot science fiction film that is more a story of a man’s emotional journey that the space adventure the previews have been selling to audiences. Brad Pitt does an excellent job carrying the film and, if you don’t mind heavy drama in your sci-fi, then you won’t be disappointed by this one! Bonus points for this film not being a sequel or a reboot!!

I hope you enjoyed this review and find your way back here for some of the best writing in all of the blogosphere!

Ps. I know it wasn’t Luke Skywalker that said that quote! I was just messing with you.

As Always, thanks for your time!

The Movie Psycho

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