Apocalypse Now did this on earth; Ad Astra is a worthy successor in space.
Director: James Gray (The Lost City of Z)
Screenplay: Gray and Ethan Gross (Klepto)
Cast: Brad Pitt (Thelma and Louise), Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men)
Runtime: 2 hr 2 min
By: John DeSando
“In the end the son suffers the sins of the father.” Roy McBride (Brad Pitt)
Astronaut Roy McBride may be traveling to Neptune in the near future to confront his scientist dad’s (Tommy Lee Jones) Lima Project that may have gone rogue and may be causing serious disruptions around the solar system. Yet, it is only too clear that Roy’s Heart of Darkness (Pitt as Sheen’s Willard and Jones as Brando’s Col. Kurtz) journey is to come to terms with his dad. Dr. Freud and Greek dramatists would agree.
While this may seem like a heavy psychological drama, it turns out to be exciting as any odyssey (they encounter dune-buggy racing pirates and carnivorous baboons) and as poignant as any thriller (how will the two react to each other after 29 years?). Director and co-author James Grey keeps the focus on McBride, whose cool (his pulse never rises above 80) keeps the film from being an exploitive space/horror B film.
The idea of searching for a parent is blended well with the simple need to save the earth from dangerous anti-matter activity on Neptune. In that way Ad Astra fulfills a sci-fi need as several have given us in the last few years like Mars, Gravity, and Interstellar. As Arthur C. Clark and Ray Bradbury taught us, the adventure is discovering ourselves and releasing our parents from their hold on us.
Ad Astra does that and gives us another out-of-this world performance this year by Brad Pitt. As charming as he was in Once Upon a Time this summer, here he chucks the charm to underact as an antidote to the hyper velocity of the plot. Pitt is due an Oscar nomination one of these days.
“I always wanted to be an astronaut, for the future of mankind and all. Roy McBride
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com