Saturday, September 28, 2019

Movie Review: "Ad Astra" (2019)

Director: James Gray
Year: 2019
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

Major Roy McBride is tasked with a special mission where he is sent to Mars to attempt to contact his father, who went missing on a mission to Neptune and has been presumed dead for the past 30 years.

Brad Pitt sits in a spaceship wearing a white shirt questioning life in a movie still for the 2019 sci-fi drama As Astra
"I will not be vulnerable to any mistakes." (Image Source)
One could say "Ad Astra" is about a man who takes a 4.3 billion kilometer journey to resolve some deep-seated daddy issues, though that might be a tad reductive. "Ad Astra" is directed by James Gray, who is known for directing films like "The Immigrant," "The Yards," and "The Lost City of Z." He also helped write the screenplay along with Ethan Gross, who is best known for writing a few episodes of the television series "Fringe." This film tells the story of Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), an astronaut who is known for being as cool as a cucumber. In fact, he is so calm in stressful situations that his heart rate has never broken 85 BPM. Recently, a rash of malfunctions has plagued electrical systems across the earth, causing global mass destruction. 'U.S. Space Command,' or SpaceComm, believes these malfunctions are being caused by power surges from the Lima Project, a thought-to-be-lost mission orbiting the planet Neptune that was in search of extraterrestrial life. The Lima Project was run by Roy's father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been assumed dead for the last three decades. SpaceComm now believes he is alive and that he is causing these energy surges. The younger McBride has been tasked with a mission to go to Mars and use SpaceComm's underground base to send a message to his father to try and stop the destructive power swells. There are some lingering feelings that Roy's personal connection to the situation may compromise the entire mission.
Movie still for the 2019 film Ad Astra where space pirates ambush Brad Pitt, Sean Blakemore, and Donald Sutherland on the moon
"We are world eaters." (Image Source)
Brad Astra is a Lad Astra who is both Glad Astra and Mad Astra that his Dad Astra might be alive. He's never Unclad Brad Astra or Plaid Brad Astra, but he's frequently Sad Brad Astra that he can't find his Dad Astra. Egad, Brad Astra!

Since "Ad Astra" premiered at the Venice Film Festival, we have heard it likened to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and to the works of Terrence Malick. To be honest, these comparisons scared us a little. We often find those movies to be technically proficient and gorgeous to look at, but otherwise horribly paced and insufferably dull bores. #sorry. Now that we've seen James Gray's latest flick, we understand the connection. "Ad Astra" is a visually stunning piece of work with meticulously crafted shots that are breathtaking to behold. There are definitely a couple of specific scenes that feel like direct homages to "2001." Gray and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema have created some Academy Awards-worthy eye candy it's a damn shame it likely won't make its mountainous $85-$100 million budget back. We can also understand why so many viewers haven't liked this film. As far as the pacing goes, similar to Malick's and Kubrick's works, "Ad Astra" tends to drag from time to time and feels much longer than it is. Max Richter's score doesn't help matters much, either. While there is a lot to love about the music, some of the film's most dramatic moments are aided by meditation-type music that Spotify or Pandora might recommend if you need to find something to relax. Though fitting in selling its celestial environment, we both agree that the score is a little too calming. When combined with the previously mentioned methodically paced runtime, well, let's just say it might cause some in-theater snoozing if people aren't careful. Luckily, the monotony of space travel, the mellow, ethereal score, and Brad Pitt's emotional journey of self-discovery and severing ties with the past are broken up with some intense bouts of action, which liven things up just when we felt like we were being lulled into complacency. While the crux of the narrative involves Brad Pitt's Roy McBride going on a literal (and spiritual!) search for his father (and answers!), these extra moments include tense, exciting explosions, space pirates, killer research primates, and zero-gravity armed combat, none of which we've seen in a Terrence Malick movie (we'll at least give Kubrick the apes, just to be fair). Speaking of Pitt, he offers a perfectly understated, nuanced, stoic performance. This is his second excellent acting effort of the year (the first being "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"), and both performances could garner him some big-time awards attention.
Ad Astra 2019 movie scene where a disgruntled Tommy Lee Jones has potentially been stuck in Neptune's orbit for three decades
"What did he find out there? Did it break him? Or was he always broken?" (Image Source)
In the end, despite its leisurely pacing, the intriguing story, the gorgeous cinematography, Brad Pitt's performance, and the occasional moments of excitement were more than enough to make "Ad Astra" worth watching for us, though we understand why it won't appeal to everyone.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
RT Rating: 83%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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