“Ad Astra,” directed, co-written and produced by James Gray is a meditation on the father-son relationship. This intimate film is science fiction that treats a spacesuit-clad traveler hopping a spaceship to the moon as if it’s a casual daily commute. He might as well be wearing a suit and tie — in one scene, Brad Pitt’s character is carrying what looks like a briefcase. Roy McBride may be living in our distant future but he’s traveling across space dealing with similar 20th century problems: an unsuccessful romantic relationship, a stressful career and a distant father. That father is played by Tommy Lee Jones; he’s floating around Neptune and may be responsible for Earth-shattering solar flares. This makes McBride’s mission to reunite with his father a rather urgent affair.
There are beautiful space interludes, and the race across the moon is a tense and exciting scene. Occasionally, obscured by their fishbowl helmets, who is shooting at whom can be difficult to discern. But beyond a few confrontations in space and the novel mode of travel, “Ad Astra” is a quiet film that could be set anywhere. Brad Pitt communicates the inner monologue of our conflicted astronaut with reserve; he seems weighed down by his mission and his angst. As he makes his journey, his companions fall away; some killed by pirates, some by McBride himself. He’s alone to face his father issues and, eventually, his father.
The first half of the film is driven by the urgency to complete this mission and the need to make contact with the space station McBride’s father commands. Whether this is a rescue mission or an assassination is the final mystery. The women in the film, Liv Tyler as the abandoned love interest and Ruth Negga’s administrator, who provides McBride with crucial information, warmth and emotion. They are sorely missed when not on the screen. Our conflicted hero must travel to the moon and then to Neptune and yet, once his mission is complete, his journey seems to skip through time and space as he hurtles back to Earth.
“Ad Astra” ends on a triumphant note and it’s good to see films that are dealing, even in oblique ways, with our fears about climate change. What’s missing in the film is a deeper connection to our closed-off astronaut. His issues with his father are like our issues with the planet, they seem too big to overcome. Overwhelmed and burdened by the weight of worry, how can we create the change we need?
Drinks with Films Rating: 2 space station bottles of H2O out of 5