Brad Pitt brings empathy and an awards-worthy to a slow burn drama that asks us to care about another man and his daddy issues but ultimately leaves you feeling cold.
In Ad Astra (latin for to the stars and shortened from the usual phrase Per aspera ad astra, or through hardships to the stars), Tommy Lee Jones Clifford McBride has been missing in space for decades after his exploratory project to find intelligent life – the Lima Project – goes offline.
His son Roy (Pitt) is now a celebrated Major in the US space force (his pulse has never gone above 80 bpm even when in danger) and has been asked to travel to Mas to send a message to his father – whom they now believe to still be alive – in the hopes he will respond.
Set in the near future, humanity has expanded to the moon and Mars, although our propensity for warfare, animal testing disputes over land continue even on new planets with a thrilling buggy chase between the US government and space pirates across the dark side of the moon one of the bright spots of this slow, quiet film.
Voiceovers by Pitts McBride give us a glimpse into his psyche and allow us to realise that despite his stoic persona, and ability to seemingly remain level-headed and tight-lipped at all times, there is a storm brewing inside as he battles with not only his fathers sins but his own.
Ad Astra asks us to consider how we atone for these sins of our fathers; as McBride realises his own dad may not have been the hero he believed him to be, he is faced with his own reckoning and the choice to reconcile the man he thought he was with the man he wants to be.
References to God are beautifully littered throughout James Gray and Ethan Gross screenplay – from prayers sent to St Christopher to the belief by Clifford that he is doing Gods work – but at the same time, the script is all so blindingly obvious you cant help but roll your eyes; there is no intelligent life, man will play God no matter the year and we are all we have.
Ad Astra is helped along by Hoyte Van Hoytemas stunning cinematography and Max Richters score (Van Hoytema regularly works with Christopher Nolan which doesnt help comparisons to work such as Interstellar) but although its all very pretty to look at and listen to, it doesnt bring any joy or warmth to the experience.
Small supporting roles from Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Natasha Lyonne and Ruth Negga help to expand McBrides world and remind him – and us – through their small personal tragedies that there is more to life than the one he has chosen.