Ad Astra is a 2019 film directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z). Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler. The film chronicles the story of an Astronaut, Clifford McBride (Pitt), who travels to the edge of the solar system to find his father (Jones), who had set out decades ago to find signs of intelligent life.
While many films today rely heavily on spectacles to justify their existence, Ad Astra is a meditative film that justifies itself by reflecting on existence, of how much fathers live in their sons, the price of ambition and how people react when reality fails to comply to their expectations. All these ideas are elevated by a top-notch cast especially Brad Pitt who gives a performance that is understated yet very human.
Visually, the film is gorgeous; whether it is a view of Earth as seen from a space station, a Moon rover chase sequence or when we are treated to a strange and unearthly beauty at the climax of the film. This is capped off by a unique ending, which as far as I can tell has never been done in this type of genre.
Nevertheless, the film is less than the sum of its parts. Though the director has done his job very well he cannot overcome the shortcomings of the story, which feels rushed and slow at the same time. The film also borrows elements from classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar, First Man and Apocalypse Now. Such comparisons only manages to undermine the film. Ad Astra also sufferers from a kind of hallucinatory narration which is heavily influenced by “Apocalypse Now” but here the narration only manages to be a burden. The film also lacks the brutal and bare catharsis of the director’s previous work, “The Lost City of Z”.
Though Ad Astra may not reach the heights of the films it aspires to, it is nonetheless a worthy look especially in an industry that is continually filled with mindless superhero and franchise films.