Directed by James Gray, Ad Astra makes some poor choices to appeal to a larger audience but that doesn’t compromise a strong central performance and its technical achievements.
The story follows Roy McBride, an asocial and detached astronaut through his journey into outer space in pursuit of his father who had to abandon his family for a mission in the search of intelligent life. In this journey Roy questions the importance of space exploration for mankind, the decisions made by his father and if his approach to people around him is actually beneficial for society.
Just by reading my own summary of the plot, or at least what I understood of it, I felt the movie is exploring some excellent themes. It’s the third movie I’ve seen this year about loneliness and isolation and thankfully it ends with something pleasant. But the problem is that the entire movie is a bunch of really great ideas that don’t really convert into a strong message by the end. I got a sense of what the movie wanted to convey but somehow never really felt it to a great extent. And everything that could’ve been ambiguous or an interesting discussion in the movie is immediately narrated by Brad Pitt’s character. So, you’re not really left with anything to ponder about, especially considering the strong philosophical themes in the movie.
The movie also has a lot of scientific inconsistencies and asks the audiences for a far greater suspension of disbelief than it deserves. But I went into the movie knowing that and was ready to glance over the science to enjoy the characters and themes. Still, every time something scientifically inaccurate does happen, it’s hard not to pay attention because of how glaring they are.
From a technical standpoint, the cinematography, visual effects, and sound design are marvelous. The movie has a larger chunk with characters drifting through space in downtime as compared to action sequences or set pieces. But the soundtrack works well in both situations, especially with the tracks with fewer instruments. This is also why I feel the movie isn’t self-indulgent because even in the seemingly slow sequences, there is a lot of beautiful imagery and soothing music to give space an authentic feel. And to be honest, that’s probably the one thing every space movie has to get right and this one surely does.
But the highlight of the movie is Brad Pitt’s performance. Cliff Booth from Once upon a time in Hollywood is an exciting subject matter to begin with so there are a lot more tools at your disposal. But Roy McBride with his incredible composure and lack of strong emotions is a much greater ask from an actor. And yet, Brad Pitt manages to give a convincing performance with his eye movements, subtle changes in his tone and minimalistic body language. For me personally, it’s an even better performance than Once upon a time in Hollywood.
In all honesty, there isn’t a lot wrong with the movie. It wants to appeal to a larger audience for which it has scientifically inaccurate action sequences to create tension, a very cliched set-up and although convincing, a narration that spells out everything for the audiences. But an excellent performance from Brad Pitt, the amazing technical aspects and the intriguing although heavy-handed philosophical messages make it a very good movie.
Read more about the breathtaking visuals in Ad Astra here