Where do I begin with reviewing the movie Ad Astra? In terms of plot it is quite simplistic. Roy Mc Bride (Brad Pitt), a troubled yet stern Astronaut must embark on a mission to find his father, who thirty years previously, set out into space to find other sources of life on distant planets. The ‘Lima Project’, a top secret mission pioneered by H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), the golden boy of the space programme, long thought to be dead until mysterious energy fields begin destroying life on earth.
It’s an interesting premise hampered somewhat by unnecessary ‘on point’ voice over, messy plot contrivances and an unconvincing world. Undoubtedly the core underlying meaning of the movie is about the damaged son chasing after the neglectful father in the hopes that they can reunite after thirty years of absence, to seek answers from him to why he chose to abandon him. In this you also see that the son is doomed to repeat the mistakes of his father if he continues down this road. The other being the chase for something better ‘out there’ and in the process taking everything for granted including our loved ones at the cost of our humanity. It is a nice sentiment and one the world definitely needs right now.
But it is hidden within a messy plot where you never really get on board with what’s happening on screen or fully grasp the world created. It’s intentionally sterile to the point where it literally sucks the tension out of the movie. There was potential for the movie to be exciting and engaging as well as tell a meaningful story. But it misses the mark. Personally, I felt the voice over for the most part didn’t work. It was very on point telling you, the audience, what exactly was happening on screen. In one instance Brad Pitt actually says ‘I’m on my way to Jupiter’ just in case you missed that plot point. Not that Brad Pitt is bad in it, far from it, he is excellent. A really understated performance. But he is really the only character that stands out, the supporting cast is completely secondary coming across as one dimensional ciphers just so Pitt has ‘something’ to react to.
The other niggling aspect was some of Brad Pitts dialogue which hammered home, quite literally, how the character was feeling telling us at one point, travelling for 80 plus days to reach Jupiter ‘I’m so alone’ - just in case the subtext was lost on the viewer his chosen hermetic workaholic lifestyle has created a ‘loner’ separating himself from his loved ones - it is reinforced with flashbacks to him and his wife drifting apart. I would argue the audience would have gotten that idea without the inclusion of this clunky dialogue.
One of the aspects I found interesting was the trip to the moon and the fact that there is a ‘war’ raging on it where Pirates are ravaging resources for their own personal gain. This is never really explored at all which is a shame as it was one of the more fascinating ideas in the movie. Not to say that it fits into the story. It doesn’t. Sticking out like most of the action scenes. Perhaps studio interference responsible to try to punch up the story.
It is probably worth mentioning about the messy/implausible physics displayed in most of the movie. I could get on board with most of it bar three glaringly bad scenes: 1. The race to catch a rocket to Jupiter where Brad Pitt with ten seconds to launch manages to climb onto the rocket and somehow hold on as the rocket is propelled at 18,000 miles per hour climbing into a hatch at the base of the rocket. 2. Brad Pitt ‘surfing’ on a piece of metal trying to get back to his rocket near the end of the movie blasting through a debris field of rocks without being thrown off trajectory in the slightest. 3. Stopping for SOS call in space. Again the rocket was traveling at a tremendous speed so stopping without any reference on a whim seems very unrealistic. It’s worth pointing out that the rockets seemed like they we’re from our time and not in any way modernised/updated.
It is these implausible plot points that really let the movie down such as Tommy Lee Jones who is a very fine actor but I could never, not for one instant, believe he would be capable of surviving space flight - he looked old in his thirties never mind now in his seventies. Not withstanding that the movie is in long stretches actually quite boring. There was potential there but it is sterile, working in service of pretentious notions in love with the idea of meaning, to the detriment of story, character and an engaging plot.
Overall it was disappointing, I really wanted to like the movie and I could see the potential in it but it fell short.