Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos. (from IMDb)
Sci-fi is such a broad genre that there is very much an ďanything goesĒ approach when it comes to what viewers can expect from it. Ad Astra is the latest artful addition to the genre, placing acclaimed actor Brad Pitt in the driver's seat as the main propulsion for the story. The ads for the film hyped it up as an action-driven, mysterious science fiction must-see in the vein of Interstellar or Gravity, however, the end result kind of falls somewhere in between; it feels cut from the same cloth, but may lean more towards the look and feel of First Man than either of the others. Ad Astra is surprisingly more psychological and human than one might expect. It isn't psychological in the mind-bending, twisty kind of way, nor is it psychological in a deeply disturbing sense. Instead, it deals greatly with the effects a son's relationship with his father had on his life, as well as the effects of isolation -- both in space and in relationships.
The thing that probably stands out most about Ad Astra, above anything else, is its beautiful cinematography. Shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema (who is responsible for the beauty of Interstellar and Dunkirk), so much of the film is just lovely to look at, and Van Hoytema's use of color and lighting really help to set the mood for each sequence. And itís their approach to how realistic the scenes generally look that adds a sincere tangibility to Ad Astra's view of our possible scientific future. For example, Pitt's character Roy needs to take a rocket to the moon, and boards what is matter-of-factly described as a "commercial flight." We then see him board a rocket, while wearing a spacesuit, and sitting and being tended to by a stewardess in the same way you would experience on any commercial airline flight today. It's handled with such uncanny realism that it feels surprisingly realistic despite being entirely fictional.
Pitt is given a lot of responsibility for carrying the film, and his character, Roy McBride, is more quiet and conflicted than charismatic and charming. Some of us will generally like and want to root for Roy simply because we empathize with him, while others will no doubt be able to relate to the emotional journey he embarks on over the course of the film. The film's examination of his own personal wrestle with isolation is a heavy theme, and it's a tough ride to take alongside him. But, ultimately, it's one that has a redeeming conclusion, as we see him grow through his experiences in the film.
The search for life out in the stars is his fatherís quest that ultimately becomes his sonís ó in a much different way ó and it brings with it a very human story set within the science fictional world. There isnít a whole lot of spiritual content in the film, although a character is seen watching a video of another character who is stationed out in space and claims they feel closer to God more than ever because of where they are. Sadly, that character isnít painted in the brightest of lights, so itís ambiguous whether theyíre meant to represent the filmmakers' view of those who believe in God, or if itís just a representation of this characterís more wholesome past before they eventually degraded, morally and psychologically, over time.
The content is mixed but probably most on par with something like Gravity. Thereís almost no profanity in the film, but Roy watches a video with his girlfriend or wife giving him a message and she casually uses the ďFĒ word once. Thereís maybe 1, possibly 2, ďSĒ words, and Roy prominently says ďg*dd*mnĒ during a narration of his thoughts. But, for the most part, language is surprisingly infrequent. The only other serious content to consider is violence. This is a little spoilery, but when Roy joins an astronaut on an investigation of an abandoned station out in space, they find a rabid animal that attacks them. It mauls one manís face, and we see the bloodied face (and gory hand) several times with their nose clearly chewed off. Later, we see a station with dead bodies floating around. At least one of them has a bag over their head, with blood splattered on the inside of the bag. In another scene, some characters are exposed to space in a shuttle and we watch them quickly freeze and suffocate to death. Itís a pretty intense and surprisingly harrowing scene that is meant to shock the audience and the main character.
Overall, Ad Astra is a unique and arty sci-fi drama that is certainly not for all audiences but is likely to connect most with those who appreciate deeper human stories as much as any action film. There is some action in this one, but itís pretty scarce, so those hoping for a big blockbuster epic will be left wanting. Iím curious how Ad Astra will hold up with repeat viewings, but after just one thus far, itís a strong sci-fi drama thatís worth checking out if you can appreciate a slower paced drama over the usual, more bombastic summer blockbuster.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/28/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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