Ad Astra

Space Monkeys, Daddy Issues, and Existential Life Questions

Posted in Movie Reviews on September 22, 2019
Prod 66

James Gray

Running Time
124 min

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe. - IMDB

It seems to be Brad Pitt’s year for the Oscars as he’s starring in not one but two critically acclaimed films: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Ad Astra. But where the former features Brad as the all smooth groove stunt man, Ad Astra’s trailer shows Brad in a much colder and monotone role. In a recent piece done by the New York Times, James Gray speculates Ad Astra was somewhat therapeutic for Brad as he overcame issues of alcoholism and the recent divorce with Angelina Jolie, which should come as no surprise given how the couple’s 2015 feature film “By The Sea” felt like the Hollywood equivalent of marriage counseling.

Truth be told, it took a bit of discipline going to see Ad Astra, despite the critical praise and top profile names attached to the film, it didn’t particular spark interest in me. It looked like a half-baked concoction between Damien Chazelle’s First Man biopic and and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar blockbuster epic. Ad Astra’s issue isn’t that it uses its plot as a device to explore life’s existential questions; but rather that its compartmentalizing lonely spaceman story is one that’s been milked dry, making this entry too little too late.

Ad Astra’s plot is relatively straightforward - Brad Pitt plays a legacy child astronaut whose been tasked with reaching his long gone father when a radioactive reaction on Neptune threatens to wipeout the galaxy, facing not only physical challenges but emotional and mental ones as well as he re-evaluates his life and his relationships along the way. Ad Astra is mainly told through Brad Pitt’s voiceover narration, who throughout the film reveals certain facts about the character’s past life and ponders about man’s purpose on this earth which are all supposed to build to a breaking point climax for Brad’s character as he reaches an epiphany. Granted James Gray’s balancing of the two conflicts: man vs self and man vs environment, proves to be catchy and worthy of the price of admission to see this film. However during the climax, Brad Pitt’s woke protagonist asks himself “Why Go On?”. Funnily enough I kept asking myself the same question during the 2 hour runtime. I couldn’t help but leave feeling a bit cheated out of a climax. For as much exploration Ad Astra undergoes throughout the galaxy, it does very exploration little into Pitt’s character and his relationships which ironically the film seems to want the audience to place so much importance on. Brad Pitt’s relationship with his father is about as cold as space itself, his relationship with his wife non-existent, and a convoluted ‘good cop/bad cop’ subplot with a space corporation which never really led anywhere. Furthermore that considering that Interstellar and First Man, which were not released that long ago, deal with the same storyline in arguably more interesting ways, it reduces Ad Astra to nothing more than the prelude for an interesting meta discussion on life, failingto captivate the audience in any meaningful way or add anything new to the conversation. 

Make no mistake though, Ad Astra is the Brad Pitt show, all 120 minutes of his expressionless droopy face as he travels the galaxy. What he lacks in lines, he makes up for body language. Despite his monotone expressions throughout most of the film, his progressive breakdown of his emotional and mental state is interesting to watch, to the point that when Pitt’s character starts shedding tears, you really feel like you’re getting the genuine treatment. As for the supporting characters, they play more walls and ideas of which Pitt’s character can play on rather than having lives of their own.

What the film can be praised for is its cinematography, from the use of the beloved Max Richter for the film’s soundtrack, to the emphasis on the emptiness of space in the film’s camera angles, to even the look at the planets, Ad Astra felt like a well made film from a production standpoint. It was only a shame that it lacked the writing flare to go with it.

In Summary

The Good
  • Brad Pitt's Acting
  • Existential Life Questions
  • Cinematography and Soundtrack
The Bad
  • Snail-like pacing
  • Anti-Climactic Plot