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Ad Astra: A journey upriver to meet your demons, internal and otherwise

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Brad Pitt stars as an astronaut in search of his long-lost father (Tommy Lee Jones) in Ad Astra.

On its own, the title of this week's blockbuster release—Ad Astra, Latin for "to the stars"—doesn't tell you much about what the film is about. The trailers haven't done much to clarify, promising everything from family drama to violent car chases on the Moon.

None of the details provide much clarity, either. The movie was co-written and directed by James Gray, whose films have tended to be on the critically acclaimed, publicly obscure end of the spectrum and are set in realistic versions of the present. Yet this one is clearly set in a sci-fi future and is loomed over by enormous Hollywood figures including Jones, Pitt, and Donald Sutherland.

The movie holds together much better than that description might suggest. While there's plenty here to nitpick, the film offers an interesting vision of the future and a plot that enables its focused human drama to become central to that future. What follows is a review that will attempt to spoil nothing that wasn't already revealed in the trailers.

The First Family of Space Force

The film centers on Brad Pitt's Roy McBride, an officer in a military organization that seems to be a descendant of the US Space Force. McBride is a highly respected officer in his own right—the film opens with him narrowly escaping death on the job—and the son of one of the Solar System's great explorers (Tommy Lee Jones' Clifford McBride) who was lost on an expedition to the outer planets.

The disaster that sets the film in motion is tied to that expedition—and suggests early on that Clifford might not actually be lost. The military sends Roy on a journey to Mars to try to make contact. What follows is a journey both in space-time and in the equally treacherous world of McBride's own head. The former gives the film an episodic quality, as each step of the journey introduces new environments and characters. That propels the latter, as those steps reveal progressively more about Clifford. This complicates Roy's view of himself, which developed in part through his father's absence.

  • Brad Pitt plays the central character, Roy McBride. 20th Century Fox
  • If you've ever wanted to see Donald Sutherland in a space suit, this is your chance. 20th Century Fox
  • A bit like Fury Road, but with less air. 20th Century Fox
  • A lot of internal drama is conveyed by Brad Pitt looking pensive.
  • On Mars, Ruth Negga's character makes a key decision that moves the plot forward. 20th Century Fox
  • Tommy Lee Jones plays Pitt's dad, a key figure in the early exploration of the Solar System. 20th Century Fox
  • Although the title implies "to the stars," the action remains within the Solar System. 20th Century Fox

The episodic nature of the journey, along with the growing unease it creates, makes comparisons to Apocalypse Now inevitable. But Ad Astra is exceptional in how many other movies it instantly evokes (as opposed to having those parallels require later reflection). Pitt leaves Earth? 2001. The chaos that leads to a car chase on the Moon? Fury Road. Even Pitt's emotional journey, mostly conveyed by him staring emotionlessly while processing things, brought to mind Ryan GosRead More – Source