Our entire solar system is in jeopardy, learns astronaut Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who survives a massive electrical surge from deep space. His father, famous astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), was lost in space, 21 years earlier, searching for intelligent life. “We believe your father is still alive, somewhere near Jupiter,” says Colonel Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), old friend of Roy’s father. “We have to hold out the possibility your father may be hiding from us,” he says. “Are you ready to go?” “I’m ready,” Roy says, accepting the hazardous mission to find his father and save the solar system. That’s the setup for this elegantly filmed science fiction drama.
Can Roy succeed in his quest? Does he also discover himself? Will you be challenged by this introspective science-fiction drama? I was.
Brad Pitt adds a second Oscar-worthy performance to his 2019 record. First, he was laid-back, movie stuntman Cliff Booth in Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” As astronaut Roy McBride, however, Pitt’s character is stoic and inward, sharing thoughts with us as he takes the many computerized “psych evals” required by his Space Com superiors. “I’m calm, steady, no bad dreams, focused on essential, pragmatic decisions,” he says, prepping for blast-off to the moon. Tommy Lee Jones is Roy’s long-lost, absent father, Clifford McBride, Commander of the ill-fated “Lima Project.” “I widowed your mother, orphaned you,” he says to Roy, “but I found my destiny.” Donald Sutherland plays avuncular Colonel Pruitt, who tells Roy, “Go! Go!”
Others in the cast include Ruth Negga as Helen Lantos, Director of Operations on Mars. From her “Lima Mutiny” file, Roy learns why his father has not returned to Earth. Loren Dean is Donald Stanford. Watch for Liv Tyler in a cameo as Roy’s estranged wife.
“Ad Astra” is a sci-fi adventure/drama/mystery, directed and co-written (with Ethan Gross) by James Gray. But it’s only partly action/adventure; mostly, as critic James Beradinelli says, the film “uses space exploration as a means to look inward at the essence of humanity.” Its focus here is the decades-long, broken relationship between solitary astronaut Roy McBride and his distant father, Commander Clifford McBride. Unexplained words recorded by his father may suggest a religious dimension to the film as well: “I know for certain,” he said, “I am doing God’s work. We will find our brothers and sisters.”
Rated PG-13 for violence, bloody images and strong language, “Ad Astra” runs 122 minutes. You’ll want to talk about it afterward.
“Ad Astra” means “to the stars,”
Earth, to the moon, Neptune and Mars;
It’s a star turn for Brad Pitt —
An Oscar-worthy movie hit.