Brad Pitt stars in a tale of loss, grief and desperation, set against a visually stunning cosmic backdrop that has already wowed audiences since it premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival. But for all its beauty, Ad Astra fails to live up to its promising premise.
When Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is jolted back down to Earth from his space station due to a galactic power surge, he receives the welcome news that his long, lost father and world-famous Astronaut, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who he believed to have died in action, is still alive. With Roy in a unique position to find his father, he is tasked with the mission to rescue Clifford and to stop the freak power surges, which Clifford is believed to have started.
What follows is a fascinating story that for the first 60 minutes, will have you totally hooked. However, the final hour will leave you feeling slightly disappointed.
Set in the near future, Ad Astra opens with, what is arguably, the best and most gripping 10 minutes of cinema you’ll see this year; Roy is show beginning to work on a space station before plummeting back down to Earth. This is against the most incredible galactic setting which viewers will not have seen anything like before.
This is certainly a big shout, given the phenomenal spectacles of space we’ve been treated to with recent films such as; Gravity, Interstellar, First Man and The Martian, but Ad Astra really does top the lot in regards to the cinematic visuals.
From Earth’s mountainous and rocky scenery; to the eye of Jupiter, with the piercing blue colour of Neptune and Saturn’s rings, Ad Astra is made in such a way that it really does feel like you’re travelling through the whole solar system – not just gawping at the vastness and beauty of outer space. As well as the stunning visuals, the Orwellian view of space travel is also an interesting touch. In Gray’s world, citizens see lunar exploration as nothing more than a long haul flight, provided by Virgin Atlantic, who charge outrageous prices for a travel neck pillow and offer currency exchanges on the surface of the moon. It’s in a future which we are heading towards, making it a very bold and enjoyable prediction from director, James Gray.
Off the back of his scene-stealing performance as Cliff Booth in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Brad Pitt delivers another masterclass; with a very complex, subtle and understated performance as Roy McBride and, as he is in practically every frame, he essentially carries the film. His mission is simple, but Pitt’s performance shows us the weight that his own personal mission is having, and has had on his mind as he embarks on a mission to find the potential closure he’s longed for.
Despite Pitt’s incredible performance and the stunning visuals however, there is the overwhelming feeling that Ad Astra fails to live up to its promising opening and premise. Considering how gripping the opening hour is, it feels as though the film loses its potency and conviction after the hour mark.
It appears as though the film is beginning to rely too heavily on Pitt’s performance, with the visuals having to tell remainder of the story. Essentially, you’re drifting through the vastness of space with Pitt and not in a good way, especially as the film is over 2 hours long.
The final hour seems somewhat aimless and despite an emotional scene towards the end, the second and final act falls flat, leaving few viewers somewhat disappointed.
Ad Astra is so deeply layered that it definitely deserves a second viewing. Despite its flaws, Gray has created a visually stunning film which contains plenty of hidden meanings and, because of the incredible visuals alone, it is definitely worth say a second revisit to consider its overall impact.
Ad Astra will be released on September 18th by Twentieth Century Fox. If you can’t wait that long, then you can watch the trailer here.