Movie Review: ‘Ad Astra’


Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Live Tyler, Jamie Kennedy

Plot: Major Roy McBride is a well renown astronaut whose father vanished during a mission to the outer edge of the solar system. On a new mission to reach his lost father, McBride discovers some uncertainly truths.

Review: We expect to see Ad Astra featuring the 2020 recommended viewing list of every Film Psychology unit in colleges across the land. It’s best described as being more interesting than entertaining, and there’s going to be a whole bunch of explanatory video essays turning up soon. I almost suspect that James Gray is hoping to be described as ‘Kubrickian’ in reviews. He might be in luck.

It’s a difficult movie to summarise. There’s some very dry, reserved performances in an Odyssey styled narrative, but it’s heavily caked with symbolism. That’s not to say that it’s dull or pretentious, as it has an excellent style and mostly moves along at a quick pace. Let’s try and synopsis this thing.

Roy McBride (Pitt) is one of the best astronauts around (in the near future), partly due to his clinical and detached worldview. He displays indicators of sociopathy and his heart rate will barely flicker even when facing death. The only thing that seems to register with him on an emotional level is the news that his father might still be alive.

His father, Clifford McBride (Jones) vanished years earlier while on a mission to the outskirts of the solar system. When the Earth is wracked by electrical storms which leave tens of thousands dead, and the source is traced to McBride’s Snr. assumed location around Neptune. Roy sets out on a journey through the human colony on the moon and an outpost on Mars in order to reach his father.

What’s interesting about Roy is that the opportunity to contact his father is the only thing that generates a response from him. He is calm and calculating in every situation, even when falling through the atmosphere and potentially going to meet a splashy end. It is for this reason that the movie feels more like a psychological study using space travel as symbolism rather than science fiction. The unique design of each stop of his journey and the people he meets there is a fresh perspective on his unrelatable psyche.

On that note, a special mention goes the set designers. They’re certainly one of the biggest stars of this movie. There’s a number of stops on this voyage including the commercialised moon colony, being pursued by faceless pirates and visiting mankind’s further afield manned outpost under the surface of Mars. Each part of the story features a unique colour palette and distinct features. The Mars colony seems to be comprised on endless corridors that simply don’t make geographic sense, for example, giving off a sense of dry dust and a complete detachment from humanity. Whilst the voice over from Roy gives us a clear sense of what his thought process is, the set’s and art design are at the core of the emotional connection for the audience.

When we do get to the third act of the movie things do slow down to a snails pace. The plot moves along steadily and there’s always something look at. There’s plenty of details to explain the world this movie takes place in, and some sequences, such as a commute to the moon, are fascinating to watch. They effectively sell the audience on the realism of this potential future. But when we get to the end of the adventure the momentum becomes null. It really gets in the way of a very interesting story.

This is a good film, and we’re glad we saw it, but it falls sort of it’s grandiose ambition.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN