‘Ad Astra’ review: Brad Pitt movie might leave you lost in space

Brad Pitt stars in 'Ad Astra.'. 20th Century Fox/Francois Duhamel

To some moviegoers, Ad Astra will be the most profound, poignant movie of the year. Certainly, most critics seem to be on board with the Brad Pitt (in spaaaaaaace!!!!!) vehicle as the film has received rave reviews from the majority of scribes.

The premise is interesting, with Pitt starring as astronaut Roy McBride. He’s sent on a mission across the Milky Way to discover the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), who left 30 years ago to search for extraterrestrial life beyond our sun’s magnetic field. As his father’s ship reached Neptune, communication was lost, and Roy was never told the truth about what happened.

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Ultimately, Ad Astra is a commentary on separation, on living your entire life without somebody — in this case, a parent — and how, despite their absence, your every waking moment is spent worrying about them, thinking about them. It’s about the irony of a person not being in your life but taking up most of it, thus changing who you are at the core.

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Unfortunately, in its quest for profundity, Ad Astra goes full bore with this message and, as a result, squashes it.

What do you mean by that?

It’s difficult to count the number of instances in which this message is driven home by Pitt’s character, either in monologues or narration. It’s almost laughable how many times he references his father, in the same terms, over and over. Lines like: “Did I ever really know you, father?” and other James Cameron-esque dialogue mar what could have been a very touching story.

Not to mention the painfully clear metaphor of hunting for your missing father in the vastness of black, empty space. With the physical reminder of isolation and separation, it’s not necessary to continually remind the audience in dialogue as well. Show, don’t tell.

Surely there must be some cool space stuff, right?

This is where Ad Astra delivers the goods. Space movies have been done to death, and it’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen anything original take place out there. The opening scene of the movie, a chase scene on the moon (yes, you read that right) and a few other action sequences really get the blood pumping, and we haven’t seen anything like this before on film.

It also succeeds in capturing the vastness and isolation of space. It’s very quiet, lonely and beautiful.

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How’s Brad Pitt?

Pitt is truly a stellar actor, and his performance here is nuanced and effective. Expect an Oscar nod. Make no mistake, either: this is a Pitt movie, through and through. Donald Sutherland gives a weird unnecessary cameo as a friend of Roy’s father, and he disappears mid-movie, never to be seen again. Jones as the elusive dad is adequate but, again, barely a blip on the radar — which, when analyzing the movie’s meaning, makes sense since we’re not supposed to know him at all.

You seem to really like this movie. Why didn’t you give it a better review?

Ad Astra tries very hard to be impactful. After two hours of driving the point home, it felt repetitious and almost painful. The movie’s setting in space lends to the slow, almost glacial pace, and I wasn’t the only one shifting in my seat by the midpoint. The worst part of all is the ending; it has no payoff. You spend the hours in space thinking of what could happen in the grand finale, but alas, nothing like your expectations comes to pass.

So what’s the bottom line?

A movie with grand aspirations, Ad Astra strives with every fibre of its being to reach the heights of emotion. It is hindered by its own hubris, losing itself in the endless clichéd Pitt monologues and stares off into (literal) space. The only parts that save the movie are the action scenes, but they’re not enough to keep this one from the void.

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‘Ad Astra’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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