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September 27, 2019

Ad Astra (2019) --- “The Answers We Seek Are Just Outside Our Reach”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Thirty years ago, NASA hero Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led a deep space voyage in search of life outside our solar system but after reaching Neptune the ship and its crew were never heard from again. Now with the help of his old friend Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), his son Roy (Brad Pitt) - a fearless astronaut - must embark on a daring mission to uncover the truth behind his father’s disappearance and the mysterious power surge that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and force him to confront his innermost fears.

     Directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z) and co-written alongside Ethan Gross (Fringe), Ad Astra (2019) is not a sci-fi film but rather it is a psychological drama with beautiful background scenery. It is a simple yet profound story about a man’s sad inner personal journey for truth. The truth about his past, the truth about his present, and possibly hope for a better future. The film is presented as a book with its first-person narrative and sort of connecting the dots approach that’s not as exciting as it could have been. Now don’t get me wrong, the film is good but it tries too hard to be something great like Gravity (2013), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and even Interstellar (2014) and yet it falls short of their success. 
     In contrast, the story’s message is what makes it profound. The story is not about saving the world from extraterrestrial threat nor is it about quantum or astrophysics but rather it about how we take some of the most precious things for granted. It about how we tend to see what’s not there rather than what is; to see the lack instead of the beauty. It’s about how we are never satisfied and all-ways striving for something better “off in the distance.” It teaches us to cherish life and make family a priority or suffer the long-term and unforgiving consequences of not doing so. It’s about closure, forgiveness, courage, and peace. All in all, it may have a vague approach and may not contain a whole lot of action but it is still a good film to see.
     The cinematography by  Hoyte Van Hoytem (Dunkirk) is pretty great and does not cease in its attempt to convey Roy’s journey of self-discovery and forgiveness. The camera work alternates between far shots and close-up shots that symbolize how loneliness is both an external and internal experience.
     The cast performances were pretty great as well. Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) is one of the few actors that can pull off a role such as this. Throughout the film, Roy doesn’t speak very often but instead, his actions, subtle expressions, and interesting voice-over convey more than words ever could. However, there were times when his performance took me out of the film, which is something that is hard to ignore. It was also a nice touch to have Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman) and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games series) together again for another space film, nearly 20 years after Space Cowboys (2000), which is a more upbeat and comical sci-fi adventure. Ruth Negga (Preacher, Loving) was nice as Helen Lantos, one of the key officials at the Mars space station, and her encounter with Roy was much-needed interaction that worked for the story.

     Overall, Ad Astra (2019) is a psychological drama that is not for everyone. If you were expecting aliens, photon lasers, and cool explosions then I suggest you check out other films such as Independence Day (1996 and 2016) or Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets (2018). Yes, this film is not perfect nor would I classify it as a sci-fi film but nevertheless it is still pretty good. The story is consistent and the message is profound in its ability to make us question whether we are grateful for what we have or greedy for what we don’t. I think that this is a worth watching film that should be given the chance to speak for itself.

Final Vote --- 7 of 10 stars

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Movies Similar
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Arrival (2016)
Gravity (2013)
Interstellar (2014)
The Lost City of Z (2017)
The Martian (2015)

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