Movie Review: Ad Astra

September 20, 2019
By Syahirah Mokhtazar

Brad Pitt has aged gracefully. We get to see his ageing handsome face in every scene and frequently in close-up throughout his latest film Ad Astra.

But Pitt in this movie is lonely. He is calm, cool under pressure, emotionally closed-off and incredibly dedicated to his job to the point where it cost him his marriage (he’s married to Liv Tyler’s character). His character Roy McBride is an astronaut who is dispatched to outer space to assist in a secret mission to stop a series of destructive cosmic ray bursts which could potentially threaten earth.

Roy is given the task to save the earth because his superiors believe that the disruptions are caused by his father, a legendary astronaut named Clifford McBride.  The power surges are linked to the Lima Project, an ill-fated expedition near Neptune headed by his father. His father supposedly died because neither him or his crew returned to earth.

Now for Roy, the thought of his father being alive all this while is what shakes his cool exterior.  His superiors ask if he is down to go on this mission, to which he agreed with an unreadable emotion.

And so it began, his mission to the unknown. First, the film paints a picture of what the ‘near future’ realm of space looks like. We can take commercial flights to the moon, for example. James Gray, the films director, portrays the moon in a way that it feels like it’s Vegas in space. You can immediately spot clever ad placements in this part of the movie. We got a little excited to see popular Japanese restaurant chain ‘Yoshinoya’ and fast food outlet ‘Subway’ available on the moon.

Roy then continues his journey to find his father with his next stop being Mars. In this movie, Roy narrates his life to himself and we’re privy to his thoughts. As the plot continues to unfold, we get to dive deep into Roy’s mind and how he feels about his father.  Is his father still alive?

After a few tries to establish connection with his father, Roy gets the hint that the crew received a response. But he is abruptly taken off the mission.

Roy gets tipped off by a native Martian, who tells him that the crew which brought him to Mars will soon head to the Lima Project base themselves with an intention to destroy it with a nuclear payload. They execute a plan for Roy to sneak into that ship.

Eventually, after 79 days, he makes it to the Lima Project base near Neptune alone. This is the moment of truth, will he actually meet his father?

There are many space films before like ‘Gravity’ or ‘Interstellar’ which centres on journeys across the universe. Ad Astra does not only follows that tradition, but it’s also a journey of self-discovery and about the relationship between a parent and child.  In this case, an absent father whose absence had impacted his son tremendously. Love makes us do things we didn’t think we possibly could, like going on an impossible mission in search of a loved one at the edge of the solar system.

Admittedly, the movie moves at a stubbornly slow pace. But the filmmakers counterbalances that with the emotional journey. This movie is intense, slightly depressing, but beautiful and sad. That said, it may not be for everyone. Pitt’s stunning performance and the inner monologue plus the pure vulnerability that he portrays makes it all intriguing to watch.

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