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Ad Astra (from the latin phrase “Per aspera ad astra”, meaning “through hardships to the stars”), the latest film by director/writer James Gray (“The Lost City of Z”, “The Immigrants”) is set in the “not too distant” future as a mysterious, catastrophic power surge coming from outer space is threatening to destroy our planet. The source of these cosmic events have been traced to the planet Neptune, the location of where Clifford McBride, a pioneering space explorer and the most decorated astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones) and his crew went missing 16 years earlier during a research mission called The Lima Project to find extraterrestrial intelligent life. Space Command believes that McBride may still be alive and responsible for this crisis of unknown magnitude.
As the lead character, Brad Pitt delivers an introspective, understated performance as Major Roy McBride, Cliff McBride's son, a veteran astronaut, who sacrificed his personal relationships and dedicated his life to the exploration of space. From the very beginning, through Pitt's voice over narration, which gives us insight into Roy's psyche and behavior, we learn that he is an emotionally disconnected, closed off, person. As a result, his wife Eve, (a wasted Liv Tyler, mostly seen in flashbacks as a a blur in the background) has left him and he is basically a damaged, loner burdened with the sins of his father.
Always appearing cool and in control, Roy has “learned to compartmentalize”, outwardly containing his emotions while internalizing hidden pain. Perfectly suited for the task, Roy is recruited by the powers that be for a top secret mission to find his long lost father, a misanthrope that abandoned him and his mother 30 years earlier to lead the aforementioned Lima Project. Roy begs to question what happened to his dad. What did he find out there? Did it break him, or was he always broken?
Roy's 2.7 billion mile journey through outer space begins with him traveling to the Moon, before hopping a shuttle to Mars and then boarding a deep space rocket to Neptune. Lunar travel is now a reality and tourism is booming on the Moon. Applebees, Virgin Atlantic, Dunkin Donuts, Vegas Vic and other iconic images maintain a presence. There is also a war going on on the lunar surface with various factions, including menacing pirates, fighting over resources.
Among the characters Roy encounters on his journey is Donald Sutherland appearing briefly as Colonel Pruitt, a former colleague of McBride Sr, who accompanies Roy to the Moon as his “security blanket”. Ruth Negga makes an impression in a very small, but interesting supporting role as Helen Lantos, Mars Base Commander. Unfortunately, her role is undeveloped she isn't given much to do. Natasha Lyonne gets even less screen time in a throwaway role as a Mars base admissions officer. Trust me, if you blink you will miss her.
Sure, the film features magnificent cinematography by Hoyt von Hoytema (“Interstellar”, “Dunkirk”), and a beautiful, minimalist score by Max Richter (“Mary Queen of Scots”) and Lorne Balf. But, the eye candy and haunting music doesn't make up for the disappointing script. There are elements reminiscent of 2001, Interstellar and Gravity. However, this film is more a psychological drama about a son wrestling with daddy issues, than a fascinating sci fi fantasy. The mood throughout the film is somber, other than during the few action scenes in which Roy finds himself in the middle of a Mad Max style road battle on the lunar surface and answering a mayday call while on the way to Mars that leads to a deadly encounter with raging, face eating research primates.
Pitt's character is so cold and distant, that he is hard to care about. When we finally reach the conclusion, it comes across as more pretentious than thought provoking. Like Roy (before his “grand” epiphany) I felt detached, removed and sadly, underwhelmed.
Courtesy of http://www.theflickchicks.com