TL;DR – A stunning film exploring the world of one man as it all falls apart around him
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Goodness, it has been a while since I have watched a film quite like this. Where we dive straight into the mind of one character and follow their drive through a slowly deteriorating experience. I think the last film that I watched that was able to pull this off was Arrival and you get hints of that here as well. With that in mind, let’s dive into a murky world of space exploration and the legacy/damage of our parents.
So to set the scene, we open in the near future where humankind has made their first steps into the solar system. One of the main drives is to find out if there is any other intelligent life out there in the universe but of course like all things mining and profit are not far behind. Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is working on the large space antenna that goes all the way up into low-Earth-orbit when a cosmic storm hits and he is thrown from the structure. Landing thanks to a parachute he is taken to Space Command Headquarters where he finds out that his long lost dad Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) might be alive and might also be the one behind the surge that has killed 40,000 people and climbing. So Roy hops on a rocket for the Moon only to discover not all is what it seems.
with a film like this it is almost hard to work out where to start because it
is doing some many things right. I have to give full respect to Hoyte van
Hoytema and the way he crafted the cinematography. He has an absolute deft hand
at the contrast between light and dark, colour and glare. It is a rare film
that captures my heart in the first frame, but they did it here with a single
ray of light. The cinematography is supported by some of the best production design
I have seen in quite a while. It is the kind of production design that can get
away with having the Moon look like a mall and still have it work. It is the
small details that they craft the world and make it feel real.
This is all held together by what might be my favourite musical score that I have heard so far this year. Max Richter knows when the music needs to soar and when it needs to fall into the background. Those moments when the emotional toll is hitting the hardest it is his music that offsets and counterpoints the grief. More than any other genre I think Science Fiction needs a musical score that is ready to go to the extremes that this story is taking and Max was more than up to the task. Now I could be a little biased here because his On the Nature of Daylight might be my favourite work of instrumental music but I have not been captured by an original score like this so far this year.
Of course if there is a focal point in this film it has to be Brad Pitt’s performance of a man that is trying to keep it all together as everything falls apart around him. Just to be on the safe side before I say anything more, just a warning that there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead. He is a many that was born out of trauma, both physical and emotional and has tried to cope with it by compartmentalising his life. This makes him a great astronaut but a lousy human being at times as we find out from his wife Eve (Liv Tyler). So much of his life is built around the legacy of his father, that the moment this is questioned it is like someone pulled a thread and slowly everything starts to unravel. It helps that as we go on we discover just what his early life was like and what drives his father so it gives context to everything. However, I do think how much you enjoy this film is going to be based on how you connect with his character and if you don’t then this is going to be a long film to get through.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ad Astra, there were some issues that held me back a little bit. To begin with, I would have liked them to be a bit more concert with their worldbuilding rather than hand waving it away. Also, while I really liked the musical score, in at least my showing, they had not gotten the sound mix quite right and so I missed some of the dialogue in the action scenes. To add to this, it really did feel like what was the point of casting Liv Tyler if you were going to do nothing with her. Finally, while I did like the dichotomy between the father and son at the heart of the film, there were times when it became a bit hollower than I think they were going for.
In the end, do we recommend Ad Astra? Yes, yes we do. It felt like it had bits of 2001 A Space Odyssey’s wonder, Arrival’s introspection, and The Martian’s isolation. However, much like Arrival, I think people will either be engrossed by it or bounce off it. I for one found myself on the edge of my seat more than once, filled with tension as to how it was all going to play out, and that always gets a recommendation in my book.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Ad Astra
Directed by – James Gray
Written by – James Gray & Ethan Gross
Music by – Max Richter
Cinematography by – Hoyte van Hoytema
Edited by – John Axelrad & Lee Haugen
Production/Distribution Companies – 20th Century Fox & Regency Enterprises
Starring – Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Jamie Kennedy, John Finn, Kimberly Elise, Bobby Nish, LisaGay Hamilton, John Ortiz, Greg Bryk, Loren Dean, Donnie Keshawarz & Natasha Lyonne
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13