By JOSEPH MILLBANK
The newest in a line of astronaut movies from recent years, “Ad Astra” is a visually stunning thriller that delves deep into the emotional stories of the main character.
Set in the near future, this film directed by James Gray follows Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) on his journey through space to find his missing father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).
The movie begins when is earth hit by a power surge while Roy McBride is on the Space Antenna, a massive tower reaching from the ground to space.
After surviving, McBride is sent to the moon as the first step in his journey through the solar system to stop the surges.
The detail in the space scenes is beautiful and Gray manages to portray how humanity has advanced, without delving too deep into futuristic technology.
This portion of the movie features an incredible space battle on lunar rovers. Although relatively quiet due to the effects of space, Gray captures the intense emotions and stress of combat.
However, one of the greatest features of the movie is not the CGI, it’s Brad Pitt’s character, McBride.
McBride is a relatively emotionless and resolute soldier. Pitt somehow manages to expose McBride’s deeper feelings without compromising his outer shell.
In one scene, McBride takes part in the rescue of a space station crew who have sent out a mayday signal. They soon find that the station had been experimenting on baboons, and that they had escaped and killed most of the crew. McBride kills a baboon attacking his captain, and attempts to save him, although the captain is declared dead.
While emotionless during this event, McBride admits his feelings of rage over the incident.
After leaving the moon, McBride and other crew members travel to Mars, where McBride attempts to contact his father, who is believed to be responsible for the surges.
Here I began to see more of McBride’s emotion, and start to understand the difficult relationship that he had with his father. In one of his attempts to contact him, McBride goes off script and becomes emotional. This is one of the first times that I clearly saw him allow his emotions to surface.
Another interesting aspect of “Ad Astra” is how Gray managed to make the movie about the future, but have it feel very realistic as well.
McBride arrives at a terminal on the moon that features newspaper stands, and even a Subway sandwich shop.
Not everyone is on the same side as well. One character notes that beyond the borders of their base on the moon, pirates await potential victims. They also note that these pirates are given safe haven by other nations. It is refreshing to see a science fiction film that features some of the geopolitical problems that plague the world today.
Gray seems to acknowledge the likely continued existence of these issues well into the future.
As a whole, “Ad Astra” is an incredible movie that shines both visually and emotionally. It manages to stun the viewer with brilliant details of space, while still holding onto characteristics that tie it to realism.
Pitt’s portrayal of McBride is exceptional, and he excels in his role as a stoic soldier who carries emotional weight. While playing a more minor role in terms of screen time, Tommy Lee Jones’ character is also well played, although it feels as if he is not given enough time to fully flesh out his personality.
“Ad Astra” is an amazing story of a father-son relationship and a beautiful science fiction visual. I highly recommend this movie to anyone looking for an action-thriller that still features an emotional story.