REVIEW: Ad Astra

★★★½ | Zach Hester • @hestzach

It’s hard to encompass Ad Astra in just a few words. I hesitate to call it a straight-up slow burn, but at the same time, it definitely isn’t a fast paced thriller in any way. Despite its pacing issues, the movie manages to leave an impression. 

Ad Astra, the latest film from James Gray, stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut who returns to space in search of his lost father, who disappeared thirty years ago during a mission into deep space. 

Brad Pitt is having his year. Between this film and his critical role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we are in the midst of a Pitt renaissance. In this role, Pitt embodies a very closed off man, who’s emotional growth has been stunted by the fact that he not only lives in his father’s (seemingly) heroic shadow but also that he has lived his entire adolescence without that figure of influence in his daily walk. 

The main theme of the film is this: how far are you willing to go in the quest for the unknown? Throughout the film, Pitt’s character, Roy McBride, is tested with this question, whether he’s aware of it or not. We see the roots of this theme from the very start when his character learns that many in the highest levels of Space Command believe his long-missing father to still be alive. Through the first and second acts, McBride begins doing things he never imagined he would in the quest to contact his father. Over the course of time, and without spoilers, it’s clear that not only is McBride’s father not what he seems, but McBride himself is more like his dad than he ever realized. 

This film is bound to be praised, and rightly so, for the feats it achieves on the technical side of film. There’s work in the film that feels very Kubrick-esque, almost like an extension of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The way that cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema holds shots, especially during the scenes on Mars, to allow the effects of advanced technology in this world to move around is gorgeous. There are bound to be several conversations about this movie for awards season. It deserves a Cinematography nomination, if nothing else. 

The response to this film has been positive, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even as a “slow burn” or whatever you’d like to call it. However, in the midst of awards season, it feels a little lost amongst the brightness of other movies who have stronger claims. It’s a wait-and-see game to decide if it’ll come out on top.


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