Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut. A safe pair of hands whichever way the situations goes, his heartbeat never breaks into a sweat – until now. Pulled into a secret briefing, he’s told that the mysterious electrical storms have been plaguing earth have a source: the ship of his long-presumed dead father (Tommy Lee Jones). Sent out on a secret mission, Roy is asked reach out for his father’s help. However, how will a ‘dead man’ respond to the boy he barely knew?
... defines its realism with constant psychological tests and puritanical suppressions of emotion.
From it’s first strafing red lens flare, Director James Gray’s ’Ad Astra’ is caught in the wake of the other space dramas that came before it. Caught between the sound design of ‘First Man’ and the epic cinematography of ‘Interstellar’, ‘Ad Astra would like to join their heavenly bodies. However, instead of trying to compete visually, Gray wisely chooses to focus on character and motivation. Pulling pages from ‘Solaris’ and the lunar excavation scenes of ’2001’, ‘Ad Astra’ reinforces its realism with psychological tests and puritanical suppressions of emotion. However, the one flicker that does manage to stow away is an unnecessary voice-over. However, in doing so, it reveals the film’s most telling touchstone: Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’.
Charged with covertly navigating the stygian channels of the deep space without drawing attention to his purpose, Brad Pitt becomes another Martin Sheen. Destined to arrive at a similar philosophical stand-off with Tommy Lee Jones, sadly Marlon Brando is not available to go off-script. So, despite an engaging build-up, ‘Ad Astra’ ultimately disappoints when “the horror” of its Major MacGuffin should have rolled out of the shadows. Finishing with an elongated arc that renders Brad Pitt’s major McBride into another mumbling Major Tom, James Gray’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ ultimately becomes another “feel-good” sewing lesson, where each of its realistic, discontented threads are systematically pulled apart.
Robbed of an appetising stand-off in a space with an ever-impressive Ruth Negga, ‘Ad Astra’ becomes another fetching satellite with a disappointingly weak signal. Unable to eclipse the many diverse movies that inspired it, Brad Pitt’s first sojourn into space falls short of ’Apocalypse Now’ by becoming an Apocalypse Later.
Attractive from a distance, yet caught in a decaying orbit, this is one shooting star that sadly misses its target vector.