***Ad Astra Spoilers Below***
Ad Astra follows Roy McBride as he ventures into deep space on a mission to save humanity. He’s at first chosen by Space Com (this film’s near-future version of NASA) to travel to Mars and attempt to contact his father on the edges of the solar system. However, things aren’t quite what they seem as McBride uncovers a deeper conspiracy and terrible truth about his supposed ‘American Hero’ father. The film goes light on action and some of the heavier sci-fi themes you might expect to deliver a contemplative, quiet story about fathers, sons, and solitude.
Ad Astra isn’t here to redefine the sci-fi genre. There are obvious influences from Kubrick to Nolan and it does bring some interesting ideas to the table. But ultimately, the film rests on the shoulders of one man: Brad Pitt. And Pitt absolutely soars in this role. His emotionally-repressed Roy McBride unravels over the course of the film in a way that sucks the audience in. Throughout the film’s first two acts, Pitt shows almost no emotion as the character, even during the freefall from the upper atmosphere that kicks off the film. So, when he finally starts cracking its absolutely engrossing. He even shines before that as one slight facial twitch is used to convey a range of emotions momentarily before the cold exterior goes back up. It’s a performance that truly deserves to be considered amongst Pitt’s top ten.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about the rest of the cast. That’s not to say they’re bad by any means. Some really good actors turn in some really good performances with what they were given. But, none are given very much to work with. Ruth Negga and Donald Sutherland are two of the standouts from the auxiliary cast but, neither appears on screen for more than 20 minutes at most. That’s just not long enough to leave a lasting impression. Even Pitt’s onscreen father, Tommy Lee Jones only physically appears for about 10ish minutes. It’s a somber, impressive performance for only 10 minutes, but 10 minutes nonetheless.
Light on real heady sci-fi, Ad Astra uses the unknown backdrop of empty space as a setting as much as a mirror. As Pitt’s McBride ventures deeper into the cold, silent void of space, so too does he venture into his own psyche. A deeply interesting and engaging sci-fi character study that lets Brad Pitt shine as a movie star, Ad Astra will both satisfy and leave you wishing more.
Ad Astra is in theaters now.