“Ad Astra” is a melancholy sci-fi road trip movie about a son in search of his father who just happens to be in far away space and the perilous journey to find him. It’s also a cynical view of future space travel as the moon and beyond is in the process of being colonized with tourists, fast food chains, and Holiday Inns.
Brad Pitt gives an understated, confident performance as the military son abandoned years ago by his famous space exploring father, played well by Tommy Lee Jones. Everyone assumes his father has died, until signals from deep space arrive and the son is ordered to find him as his next mission.
The lonely road trip begins with Pitt trying his best to internalize his feelings of abandonment while still fulfilling his orders. What really happened to his errant father? And, before you can say “The Martian” he is fighting space flares, moon pirates, rabid baboons, and a government cover up. Bad things happen in space and “Ad Astra” reminds you at every turn to always stay awake, and be aware.
Writer, director James Gray (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant) has created a confident, yet different type of sci-fi flick where aliens are discussed but it’s the earthlings causing all the trouble. His movie is stoic and reflective one minute, visceral and terrifying the next.
In many ways it’s a beautiful film heading toward an emotional father, son confrontation. The title of the film, “Ad Astra” is a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars,” but once you get past Saturn, no one can hear you arguing with your father.
“Ad Astra” is impressive yet not always compelling. It makes you think but often from a distance and for good reason. This family has a lot of problems and no amount of military training or space encounters can prepare you to be left alone by a parent.
James Gray’s film also borrows a bit too much from the great Texas-based director Terrance Malick (Days Of Heaven, The Thin Red Line). The constant narration by Pitt’s emotionally isolated character seems heavy handed and the finale to the film is a slight disappointment.
Technically, “Ad Astra” is impressive, even Oscar caliber, but emotionally it’s aloof and a bit too austere.
Gary Cogill is an Emmy award-winning film critic, speaker and film producer. His wife, Hayley Hamilton Cogill, is a sommelier, wine writer, and educator. Together they host “Cogill Wine And Film, A Perfect Pairing” podcast on reVolverPodcasts.com while living on Hawaii Island in Waimea.