Posted Sep 21 2019

Ad Astra - This Daddy Issues Space Movie Moon Rocks

Dir: James Gray

Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler

So James Gray made an existential space epic, which manages to owe more than a debt to Kubrick and Nolan both, (with a dash of Heart Of Darkness thrown in to season the pot), yet still remains a powerful work in its own right. It isn’t always completely successful, but there’s certainly enough here to be impressed by, sometimes even captivated by.

This is due to a number of elements – Max Richter’s beguiling score, stunning photography from Hoyte Van Hoytema (notable for also having aided and abetted Nolan on Interstellar), and a leading man who is having a year that is – literally – out of this world. With this and Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Brad Pitt is a clear front runner in both male actor categories (Best & Supporting) this season, and not only is it more than deserved, but Gray clearly knows what he has on his hands, focusing on Pitt – often in tight, if helmeted, close ups – throughout the movie. Yes, the special effects and world building of the near future are impressive, and sumptuously brought to life by Hoytema and crew, but the real effect here is Pitt, as the astronaut searching the furthest reaches of a profoundly empty space to find the father (Tommy Lee)  who deserted him years before. Yes, it’s a daddy issues outer space v inner space scenario, but Gray finds a genuine lyricism to it that is ultimately quite beautiful and compelling in an always understated manner.

There are moments that feel like concessions to commerciality – the pirate moon buggy chase for one, and what the fuck was that killer space baboon about?? – but ultimately it’s clear the filmmaker has his heart closer to the pace and precision of Kubrick’s 2001 that he has his eye on the box office.

With Pitt at the best he’s ever been, the film may well find some success. But this is an existential space epic – and they traditionally have a hard time finding an audience. Which would be a shame.

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