Released 2019. Director: James Gray
SPACE IS COLD. SO IS AD ASTRA. Brad Pitt is astronaut Roy McBride, the best in his field, but he’s also a moody husband who is weighed down by issues of abandonment in his past. Nobody smiles. Not Brad, not Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, or anyone else. Ad Astra has a serious tone cold as liquid nitrogen. But if you hang on until the end, this contemplative and thoughtful sci-fi will leave you with a little sense of hope to thaw the chills.
Roy has modelled his life after his father, Clifford McBride, the most decorated astronaut and a legend among his peers. Clifford headed the Lima Project tasked to search for signs of intelligent life but the mission became incommunicable on the edge of the Solar System. That was nearly two decades ago and not a beep has been heard since.
When a series of mysterious cosmic rays hitting the Earth is traced to the Lima Project near Neptune, Roy ends up embarking on a journey to find some answers, and possibly his dad.
James Gray’s vision of the near future sees transportation to the Moon similar to boarding a commercial airliner, a lunar colony with familiar retail brands, even an outpost on Mars capable of supporting a new generation of humans. He stages a Mad Max inspired rover attack sequence on the lunar surface, a truly hairy SOS encounter inside a stricken spacecraft, and a jaw-dropping stunt sequence involving a very long fall from a space antenna among other bursts of action to punctuate the solemn progression of the narrative.
Brad Pitt gives a very quiet, controlled performance, the kind that doesn’t call attention to itself. At crucial moments Pitt gives just enough emotions to make sure we know he’s not a robot. Tommy Lee Jones does not have much screen time but he seizes every minute; his stern face capable of delivering a gut punch at the movie’s most emotional moment.
Despite the scope and the vast distance, it is really one man’s personal journey to work out some daddy issues. A personal odyssey into a heart of darkness. The further he goes in space, the more introspective the movie becomes.
Roy narrates the story all through. Told from his perspective, Ad Astra becomes a DIY therapy session. Bad stuff happens, your dad’s a terrible father and both of you lousy husbands. So what’s Roy gonna do about it? His last words about choosing “life and love” takes this ponderous journey to a positive ending. Considering the joyless mood the last two hours this might be corny, but better this than to send audiences home with a suicide note.