Review – Ad Astra

In the grandest traditions of big scale sci-fi films of the past, Ad Astra is an ambitious, spectacular cinematic experience and I loved it.

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Brad Pitt stars with a career performance in this new film from American director James Gray (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant, We Own the Night) and produced by Plan B – Pitt’s production company. Gray co-wrote the film with Ethan Gross.

Following a number of electrical storms causing mass disasters on Earth, Major Roy McBride (Pitt) is asked to embark on a journey to investigate the origins of the storms. These storms originate from the edge of our solar system, where his father and famous astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) was lost years earlier during a previous mission.  McBride sets off on the journey deep into space, and into a mystery of both what is happening now to cause the storms, and what happened then to his father.

From its opening scene the visual ambitions of this film are clear and throughout the film is holds to these. It’s hard to not quickly connect the cinematography of this film to both Interstellar and Gravity, which is less of a leap when you consider that Hoyte Van Hoytema was the director of cinematography for both this and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.  Combining these with Nolan’s Dunkirk and Spike Jones’ Her, it’s clear that Hoytema makes beautiful films – his next film will be Tenet with Nolan again next summer.

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This film has a lot of things to be very positive about. Brad Pitt delivers a career performance with a nuanced, powerful display and it’s hard to name a better one. He is joined with some very strong supporting performances through the film, Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga to name 3, but this film is very much Pitt’s throughout.

The production design too is impressive, with lighting, set design and imagery all being used to create real atmosphere.

Max Richter’s original score to the film is deeply atmospheric and a perfect compliment to the cinematography.  Richter also provided music to the opening and ending of Arrival.

It is also worth reflecting on the length of film. In at two hours, it avoids temptation to end up with a 3 hour epic, and is much the better for it.

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Thematically there are some parallels between this and Gray’s  previous film (The Lost City of Z) about a man’s journey into the unknown, seeking answers. In honesty that previous film wasn’t for me, but I’m tempted to revisit it after this film.

This movie is equally about the entirety of humanity and about a father and a son, it is about the universe and equally about everything that is on Earth. It has things to say about the future, when talking to the present.

It is a form of ‘smart sci-fi’ and sits within a resurgence of the genre in recent years with Gravity, Interstellar, Moon and to a lesser extent The Martian.

It is a clever, beautifully made film with something to say and every effort should be made to see it on as big a screen as possible.

9 stars out of 10 stars (get it?)

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