Voyages into space are a topic that has continuously intrigued audiences for decades. The fact that space is the last great unknown in the world, can be coupled with the imagination of filmmaking to tell awe inspiring stories. The concept began as hard-core science fiction, but over time has almost blended itself into more of a “science fact” realm. Ad Astra falls somewhere within this spectrum, bringing the grounded realism of modern space travel into its near future world to provide an original Sci Fi experience. It is as much an internal journey as it is an external one, partially succeeding due to an incredible performance by Brad Pitt at the center of it all.
The story follows Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) and Thomas Pruiit (Donald Sutherland), two astronauts tasked with the mission of venturing into the far reaches of the solar system in search of a mysterious power surge that is threatening life on Earth. The duo soon discovers that they are additionally in pursuit of Roy’s father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who was thought to have disappeared during a mission years ago, but may hold the key to solving this mystery.
The biggest drawback of Ad Astra is the film’s incredibly slow pacing. It’s a conscious choice by the director, used to provide ample opportunity to flesh out his central figure and tell his intended story, which at its heart is about the relationship between a father and son. The result is a quieter film that establishes a more emotional core than is seen in the typical space adventure, but drags at times. In addition, the story fails to hit its landing, providing a subpar climax that isn’t able to deliver on what the story is building towards.
While the story may not be as compelling as one would hope, the structure allows the viewer to spend nearly the entire time with Brad Pitt, and he engages from start to finish with one of his best performances to date. Pitt delivers a reserved performance filled with nuance and emotion. On top of that, the film contains a large amount of voiceover by Roy, and Pitt successfully uses it to craft more layers and insight to his character. As a result, the audience is allowed in on what he’s thinking and see him develop over the course of his expedition. It’s a compelling performance that successfully reels the viewer in, evoking a desire to see this character’s journey through to its conclusion. Another notable strength is the cinematography, as the scenes in space are incredible. It truly is a majestic film to behold and technically well done.
Overall, Ad Astra is a character study about a man’s pilgrimage through space. There are some serious pacing issues, and not much offered in terms of supporting performances, but in the end this film is carried across the finish line by Brad Pitt. Solid use of voiceover, along with a wonderful performance allow him to shine in this beautifully shot film. I give it 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to fans of the subject matter and of course Brad Pitt.