Brad Pitt has had a great decade. He got nominated for an Oscar for Moneyball, produced such amazing films as 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, and made audiences cheer in World War Z, Fury, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Now–he stars in probably the most complex and understated performance of his entire career in Ad Astra. Directed by James Gray (We Own the Night, The Immigrant), he takes inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now (which he used a lot of in his previous film The Lost City of Z). I have never seen a more realistic portrayal of space. “Ad Astra” is Latin for “To the Stars”. I couldn’t think of a much better title.
For thirty years, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) has been presumed dead on Neptune while going on a mission to search for intelligent life. His gifted son, Major Roy McBride (Pitt), learns that he might be alive. Learning about power surges in the Solar System, threatening humanity, he accepts to embark on a daring mission with Col. Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) to find him and bring him back to Earth. Fearless, he leaves his ex-wife Eve (Liv Tyler) to find connection.
Already stealing the show in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt leads a diverse cast while giving one of the best performances of his career. Although it’s never implied, it’s clear Roy is on the Autism spectrum. His biggest strengths are his courage and intelligence, but pay close attention to his body language and self-control. Even through his narrations, he is always thinking. Veterans Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland have minor roles, but both have their shining moments.
A movie like this, containing the theme involving the desire to reconnect with family, would have been as corny as Christopher Nolan’s pretentious space adventure Interstellar. What Gray does here is anything but. He hits the tone just right. It’s devastating. It’s suspenseful. It’s cerebral. And it’s visual dazzling–from the massive sets to the visuals. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Max Richter’s neoclassical score makes audiences feel there are in space with Roy. Ad Astra needs to be seen on the big screen. This joins Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Gravity as one of the absolute best films in the science-fiction genre.