January 24, 2022

Gabbing Geek

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Geek Review: Ad Astra

Brad Pitt goes out into space to find his father and himself.

What can we say about Ad Astra, a movie whose title translates from the Latin to “to the stars”?  A large scale science fiction film from director James Gray, a man not known for that?  Who would have seen that coming?

Well, it’s out now.  We can find out what exactly to make of it.

Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut with no real connections to anyone.  His marriage to Eve (Liv Tyler) didn’t work out, his mother is dead, and his father went on some long-term space exploration mission to Neptune decades earlier.  He never came home.  As such, his father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) is something of a hero on Earth.  However, something called the “surge” hits the Earth.  Damage to the planet is wide-scale.  But there’s one thing most people don’t know:  Clifford McBride may still be alive.  Furthermore, he may be responsible for the surge.  Can his son find him and stop him?

At first glance, this movie seems to have a lot in common with 2001.  There are some beautiful shots of space, and the pacing is fairly slow at first.  But as I watched this one, it occurred to me there was a better comparison.  Really, this movie is Apocalypse Now in space, right down to the general weirdness of the obstacles.  Pitt’s Roy is really the only character to get much screen time as the journey is as much an internal one for Roy as it is an external one.  He isn’t just possibly going to find his possibly dead father.  He’s confronting his own feelings on his failed marriage, general emotional distance, and the obvious fact his dad just up and left him when he was a kid.  The fact that the elder McBride might somehow destroy the solar system is only an extra incentive for Roy.

Fortunately, Pitt is up for the task of carrying the movie.  His Roy is described early on as almost preternaturally calm.  He doesn’t believe his heart rate has ever gone over 80 BPM in his life.  That is a useful skill for an astronaut.  Fortunately, he doesn’t come across as emotionally distant like Ryan Gosling did in First Man.  Or, at least, not the same way.  Given we get an inner monologue for Roy, we can see a man whose calm is only on the outside.  It may be good enough to fool the psyche tests, but there’s a lot more to Roy than just being calm all the time.  He’s a man as haunted by his failures as he is good at his job.  And like any good journey, what he learns about himself is a lot more important than whether or not he completes his mission.

This was just a great movie.  I don’t see how it doesn’t go on my Top Ten List for this year.  10 out of 10 Moon Pirates.

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