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| 19 September 2019 | Reply

Written by James Gray, Ethan Gross
Directed by James Gray
Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

If ever a film was desperately crying out for future cult status, it’s Ad Astra. My apologies, but there are a few minor spoilers ahead.

Director James Gray and his co-writer Ethan Gross draw heavily on the holy trinity of Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey here as they craft a film which is about journeys – both physical and emotional.

Brad Pitt is superb as astronaut Roy McBride, a driven but emotionally supressed man who is sent on a secret mission to Neptune to contact his long-presumed-dead father, Doctor Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones with admirable restraint.

The good doctor was on a mission to discover intelligent life and has gone a bit doolally, a la Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, and the son – although eventually shunted off the mission for becoming too emotional about the possibility of a) seeing his long-gone Dad again and b) possibly having to kill him – is the only one who can stop McBride the elder from misguidedly destroying the earth with anti-matter power surges from his ailing craft.

Roy’s physical journey right across the solar system – some 17 billion miles to Neptune – takes him first to the moon (and a car chase with faceless, nameless space pirates on the face of the moon must be a cinematic first?), then on to Mars, via a marooned cargo craft populated by out-of-control baboons. It’s his emotional journey to his personal heart of darkness, though, which is the soul of Ad Astra.

Despite these aforementioned dramatic encounters, Ad Astra (it’s Latin for “to the stars”) is a slow, atmospheric, thoughtful, often philosophical piece of art – at times as cold and distant as space itself. But art it is – every scene is exquisitely crafted, every shot looks amazing (the moon commercial spaceport is cleverly detailed and full points to Gray for not lingering on the finer details – they are there for anyone wanting to look, and freeze frame will be employed when this hits DVD and streaming sites all too soon) – helping Ad Astra beguile the viewer subtly.

But, like Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey, studio interference – the dumbing down of the film in the hope of it reaching a wider box office, partially neuters the movie.

The lead character’s inner monologue narration – as it was with the theatrical release of Blade Runner – is superfluous, serving only to detract from the mystery and allure of the movie, and Liv Tyler’s part as Roy’s wife is so insignificant that it could almost have been played by an extra. I know they are supposed to have had a dysfunctional, uncommunicative relationship because of Roy’s father issues, but c’mon.

No doubt many will leave the theatre bored – this is not a traditional blockbuster, there are few explosions and the masses would probably rather 90 minutes of the space pirates rather than a ponderous exploration of the meaning of life, the universe and everything – but that’s their loss: Ad Astra is a film for thinkers, one which raises more questions than it answers.

All that remains is for a Director’s Cut as soon as possible so we can see the true vision of this story, and it will be one step closer to eternal cult glory.

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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