I think for me any film that tries to tell a space exploration story has to be admired on some level. The amount of creativity and ambition it takes to put something so unknown to mankind on the big screen should be something that is celebrated, and Ad Astra is definitely worth that celebration. Ad Astra is bold slow burn kind of a movie with beautiful visuals, a great performance from Brad Pitt, and an unexpected story that will do it’s best to hold your attention as you drift off into space with this movie.
To the stars is the English translation of the Latin saying Ad Astra, and that’s exactly what you can expect from it. The “not too far in the future” world Ad Astra creates is a fascinating exploration of what may be possible in the future. Where trips to the moon are tourist destinations and space travel is just a new form of transportation for the common people. Brad Pitt plays an astronaut named Roy McBride set on a mission to send a message to his father who has been lost in space for over 30 years. The plot takes some twists and turns throughout its course turning into a story that reminded me very much of Apocalypse Now on a plot standpoint only, these are very different films tonally. This is a slow burn movie, and if that ain’t your thing, don’t see this. Ad Astra is methodical and takes a realistic approach to future space travel. The film is not interested in epic space battles or big explosion the way we are used to seeing them in most Hollywood movies. The stakes are high and the tension is built through the escalating tension and internal struggle Pitt endures.
Brad Pitt puts in a subtle and well-realized performance. Ad Astra spends every moment of this movie with Roy McBride, this movie does not work if Brad Pitt doesn’t put in a great job. Brad Pitt nails it. You can see Pitt getting into the headspace of this character and understanding the emotional state this man would be in. What this movie does well that I think First Man suffered from was in its portrayal of its lead characters cold exterior. In First Man, I never felt like I had connected to Neil Armstrong. Here Roy McBride is a well-rounded character that goes through a full arc of emotions in his pursuit of his father. McBride is required to do a couple of psychiatric checks throughout the whole film. This provides great insight into what the character is feeling and helps us as an audience understand the condition of the character without ever feeling like exposition. Brad Pitt also does narration throughout the film that at times can feel like too much, but at the same time, it helped me get into that same headspace that Pitt is in. Pitt’s visual language is also on point, emoting both sides of Roy’s calm, cool and collected moments and his quiet breakdowns.
One thing that I think everyone agrees on is the incredible visuals on display. This is a gorgeous movie, with awe-inspiring and creative uses of shadows and lights. Ad Astra is a visual feast. The set designs and world structure is reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ad Astra has a lot in common with 2001 with its visual style and depiction of futuristic space travel. Director James Gray must pull a lot of inspiration from Kubrick and that’s no problem for me, I mean what sci-fi director hasn’t?
Ad Astra, as I said, is a slow burn movie. There is a lot of downtime spent throughout the runtime. There are a few pacing issues that I do feel like can drag on for too long and some of the quieter moments aren’t utilized the best. This is clearly a movie that is focused solely on Roy McBride, so all other characters in this movie just don’t have a whole lot of screen time. Most characters only have one or two scenes in this entire movie. I think the slower points throughout the movie where it feels like the film comes to a stop could have had more time spent with the supporting characters as their scenes can feel rushed.
All in all, Ad Astra is a beautiful film. Brad Pitt puts in one of his best performances and carries the movie on his shoulders. If this is a movie you want to see, see it on the biggest screen you can. The visuals will blow you away. While it is a slow burn, Pitt’s performance and his emotional journey along with the visuals will keep you entertained. Even if you think this movie is too slow for you, I don’t think you can call this a bad movie as it is so well directed by James Gray.