Saturday, 16 November 2019

Ad Astra ★★★★★

Brad Pitt is having an incredible year, right? Not content with being the best thing about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, the magnificent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he’s also starring in the surprisingly good Ad Astra which, if nothing else, reminds us just how good an actor he is. While he has been wasted over the last few years in such rubbish as Fury and Allied, it looks like he is well and truly back where he belongs in quality movies.

Journeying across a lawless solar system, Major Roy McBride (Pitt) is on a mission to track down his estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones), a renegade scientist who poses a threat to humanity with his latest experiment. Set in what is described as the ‘near future’, Ad Astra (Latin for ‘to the stars’), plays out like an intergalactic Apocalypse Now, with Pitt’s Major Roy McBride feeling like an Astro-Martin Sheen as he embarks on an increasingly existential journey in search of his elusive target, a brilliant astronaut who has disappeared and may well have gone insane. Travelling deeper into the heart of darkness, Roy must face his own demons as his mission reaches a thrilling climax.

First of all, Brad Pitt is quite simply phenomenal in the lead role. The understated and near-emotionless performance is akin to Ryan Gosling’s remarkable work in Blade Runner 2049, effortlessly portraying a personal pain and whole closet of demons behind an oft-vacant expression. A marvel of nuance, the film is a character study through-and-through and Pitt more than rises to the challenge of commanding the audience’s attention throughout. But a supporting cast including Donald Sutherland and Liv Tyler aren’t weak links; everybody here is brilliant. 

Visually, the film stuns throughout, transporting the viewer through space with a scope not felt since Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (who incidentally also shot Interstellar) creates an absolute feast for the eyes which is complimented by seamless visual effects. This is big-screen entertainment of the highest order, and yet still feels like an indie human drama at its core.

While you’ve almost certainly heard the story that Ad Astra is telling before – among many other things, it is a study of father and son and the bond between – this is filmmaking on a grand scale that deftly handles the complex themes with immense heart and style, while also allowing time for some explosive set-pieces and thrills. Not only that, but the film refreshingly frames space travel as normalised and commercialised. Look out for sandwich chain Subway on the Moon, portrayed as a gaudy tourist trap akin to somewhere like Las Vegas. This is a new and innovative take on the space travel subgenre of sci-fi and something that stands Ad Astra out from the pack, along with its other great wealth of originality in terms of having the grandeur of the science-fiction taking a backseat to a human story of family.

Ad Astra is a remarkable film. Pitt’s performance is his best in years and the film’s scope is truly breathtaking. This is a film that deserves to be experienced on the big screen – if you miss it, you’ll be kicking yourself next February when it scoops up some big Oscars. Mark my words, this one is going to the stars. 

Sam Love

Ad Astra at CeX

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