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‘Ad Astra’: Interstellar daddy issues

James Gray’s intimate space epic is an excellent start to the fall awards season

Sebastian Zufelt, Guest Writer
October 25, 2019

In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt explores a distant planet en route to confront his father.

As I read in “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” a journey’s never just a journey, in that every journey is about something more, and “Ad Astra” is no exception. While on the surface one might mistake it to be quite similar to “Interstellar” — which is a great film in its own right — it’s actually quite different. “Ad Astra” is really about Roy McBride’s journey to reconcile his conflicts with his father.

From the gorgeous opening shot to the captivating inciting incident, the film sets itself up well, almost too well. The film takes a classical, cold and straightforward approach, as the story elements gradually set into place, peaking with the expository private conference which sends Roy on his dual mission to literally and emotionally confront his father.

Despite a more formulaic, less inspired first act and some redundant narration spaced throughout, the film is well worth it if you’re patient.

While Brad Pitt’s performance is rightfully receiving immense praise, the film never lets up on introducing great supporting performances. Donald Sutherland as the mentor, Ruth Negga as a fellow astronaut who aids Roy and Tommy Lee Jones as Pitt’s father all give memorable performances. There’s also an amusing cameo from Natasha Lyonne, adding some much-needed levity. Pitt is the true star, obviously. His narration detracts from his acting at times since he’s able to emote what he’s saying. He sends an impromptu message to his father at one point in which one can easily forget that this improvisation in the film is scripted.

Going back to the theme of fatherhood, the film beautifully conveys the primary conflict in a shot which justifies the futuristic-glass-tech stereotype. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema superimposes Roy’s face onto a message his father sent, showing how Roy is trying to stop his father yet is repeating the same mistakes his dad made. He kills the crew of a ship in order to further his mission, although Roy killed in self-defense unlike his father on his ship. It’s in the end that Roy grows, unlike his father, by learning to fail.

Though the studios are advertising the film as another science fiction action film, make no mistake, this is a pensive drama. While some may find the film too slow and lacking action, I feel that there’s plenty of intriguing drama to take you on a journey. Ad Astra” is a must-see in what looks to be another exciting awards season.

Ad Astra (2019)

5 stars

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‘Ad Astra’: Interstellar daddy issues