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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: It's Easy to get Lost in the Cerebral Spaces of "Ad Astra"

Sep 21, 2019 02:08AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Brad Pitt in Ad Astra - © 2019 20th Century Fox.

Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)

Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Kennedy, John Finn, Kimberly Elise, Bobby Nish, LisaGay Hamilton, John Ortiz, Greg Bryk, Loren Dean, Donnie Keshawarz, Natasha Lyonne.

Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross.

Directed by James Gray.



Science fiction is a unique genre, offering all sorts of scenarios, both plausible and ridiculous. When the exploration reaches beyond outer space and into the human psyche, sci-fi movies may lose their mass appeal. Such is the case for Ad Astra, a movie that is altogether impressive in its visual presentation yet nuanced to the extreme.

Set in the distant future, Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Rory McBride, the son of the most famous astronaut of all time. Rory’s father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) spent his adult life mostly absent in Rory’s upbringing, having spent most of his time on long missions deep in the Earth’s solar system. The elder McBride apparently disappeared on a mission to Neptune some 15 years prior to the movie’s events. When a mysterious electromagnetic “surge” threatens the Earth, Rory is called upon to go on a mission to Neptune, where the space command believes his father’s experiment might be the root of the problem. Rory first travels to the Moon on a commercial flight and then takes a secret spacecraft with a crew of 4 others to Mars where he will transmit messages to Neptune in the hopes that his dad will hear his pleas and shut down the experiment. After sending the messages, Rory stows away on the same spacecraft that takes off to Neptune but is forced to fight for his life when the crew discovers he’s on board. The conflict turns deadly, and Rory must continue the journey alone. When he reaches Neptune, Rory must face his own demons regarding his father, whose mission may have deeper meaning than simple space exploration.

Ad Astra was previewed as a space survival/action-adventure but turns out more like a psychological drama. It’s a beautiful film with incredible audio-visual effects; a heady experience that goes much deeper than other space-themed movies like Gravity, Apollo 13 or First Man. That’s a good thing if you can set aside your expectations for the fast-paced tension of an action-adventure, but less satisfying if you get lost in Ad Astra’s cerebral depth. There’s a very fine line between a movie that makes you think as opposed to being bored by the spaces in between the rare action in Ad Astra. While recognizing the beauty and simple truth behind the movie’s main premise, I was also somewhat bored for a film that feels a little longer than its actual 2 hour and 2-minute running time.

Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones deliver excellent performances, while also creating a plausible father-son chemistry. Other characters are more expendable, making a series of brief cameos, rather than cohesive supporting roles.

Again, if you go and see Ad Astra, please do so with an open mind, willing to explore the limits of the human psyche rather than any celestial frontier. If you are a fan of James Gray’s previous work, you might also appreciate the movie more than I did.

"Ad Astra" Trailer