Ad Astra Drama

Review: ‘Ad Astra’ is Contemplative Sci-Fi at Its Best

September 19, 2019Ferdosa Abdi

In James Gray's space drama, Ad Astra, we follow a despondent astronaut on a search mission for his missing father, with the fate of the world depending on it. This is a contemplative drama that takes infinitely big ideas — such as exploring the universe — to explore more personal issues. And at the heart of it all is Brad Pitt, a man who could read the ingredients for cake mix and it would still be some damn good acting.

Rightfully dubbed "Sad Astra" or "Dad Astra," the film touches on many things; for example, the breadth of humanity's potential, life beyond Earth, and the great leaps technology allows us to take. The movie is about these grander ideas, but the one that is thoroughly explored is the idea of sons suffering from the sins of their fathers. This metaphor is explored in two ways: one is the personal story of Roy McBride (Pitt) carrying the burden of what his father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) is accused of doing, and the other is mankind suffering from the actions of generations past. Both Clifford and past generations have forced Roy and the world to look to the stars for answers, to search for any and all that could aid in their dilemmas.

Roy and Clifford are tools for Gray's exploration of coming to terms with recognizing that despite us having great love, admiration, and perhaps a far too generous perspective of generations past, we are still the ones that must carry the weight of their failures. There is a point where Roy contemplates if he is to repeat his father's mistakes, uttering the words "or am I you." It is well into the film when Roy comes to this realization, and it is by this point that Gray's vision — a simple, two-layered tale that effectively tackles the ripple of effects of consequences — is fully formed.

To tell a story that will either provoke thought or challenge the audience you need everything to be top-notch. Fortunately, Hoyte van Hoytema, the cinematographer for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, is on the job, presenting the prospect of space travel as an enticing venture. Matched with Gray's competent directing and Max Richter's immersive score, the cinematography makes every moment feel earned, despite the movie being a tad bit longer than it needs to be. As for the cast, they are all great; however, no one gets the kind of material Pitt is given. There are points in the film that will make you wonder why such high caliber actors are even in these small roles. But, as professionals, they do a lot with what little is given to them.

At the end of this journey, there is a sense of hope and relief. But these somber ideas will linger long after the credits roll. As for Gray, he's not so quick to tie everything up in a lovely bow. He wants to engage with audiences in a way that will leave them contemplating what they have experienced, and Ad Astra is certainly successful in that regard.

Ad Astra releases September 20th, 2019 from Twentieth Century Fox. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 2 min.

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