September 19, 2019

CINEMA | Brad Pitt Searches for the Stars – 'Ad Astra'

"Because up there is where our story is going to be told."
Brad Pitt James Gray | Ad Astra

New York filmmaker James Gray ventures into the vastness of inner and outer space for his latest film, a sci-fi character study about fatherhood. Starring and produced by Brad Pitt, Ad Astra ("to the stars") concerns itself with what dedicated astronauts and galaxy explorers in the near future (in "a time of hope and conflict') are leaving behind or rather who they are running away from.

Gray's elegant film ruminates on the questions, not of space, but the men who dedicate their lives to seeking answers by leaving Earth for it. Co-starring Tommy Lee Jones as the elusive memory of an astronaut hero father to Pitt's Roy McBride thought to have long disappeared but is now thought to be very much alive and lost in space, their extremely tortured, estranged (non-)relationship takes the focus of Ad Astra's emotional beats as a moving portrait of isolation.

It's mostly Pitt's show told through his first-person perspective as his voiceover narration fills in the film's story. Small parts on the ground and in space are played by the quietly affecting Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga, and Donald Sutherland. They all make Roy's history and journey feel more fleshed out despite his inherent distance as an idealized yet deeply flawed man.

Brad Pitt James Gray | Ad Astra

Ethan Gross and Gray's efficiently told script deploys quick narrative tools to get Roy into space and onto his secret mission to establish contact with his father while flashing back to slowly answer why astronauts do what they do and choose to leave their lives for long stretches at a time to dive into the emptiness of the universe for themselves.

Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema gorgeously frames the intimately shot film from many interior close-ups to spectacularly sprawling intergalactic set-pieces with equal verve. Full of stunning visuals and realistic-feeling futuristic space imagery, Gray's camera delights in the details while leaving lots of room for our imaginations to fill in the mysteries of the galaxy.

Ad Astra's meditative but stirring space epic qualities reveal its underlying intimate drama breathlessly. Told from the perspective of a dedicated astronaut disillusioned by secrets and unclear motives, Gray and Pitt tell an optimistic story advocating for investing in the personal at home before projecting our dreams in the unknown uncertainty of the stars.

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