Slow-paced, with long silences and extensive voiceovers; Ad Astra might not be an easy film, but it’s pretty great.
James Gray writes and directs a story which is not only an Odyssey physically, but also a complex inner journey. On one side, there’s the sci-fi angle. It depicts a near-future where a series of electromagnetic surges threatens the human race. There’s no CGI sugar coating, typical of many major productions, nor is there the excessive grit of dystopian portrayals (for a reference, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien would be a good comparison). In this future, the conflict that humanity faces on earth is also happening in space. On the other side, there’s Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), a man who grew to be the perfect astronaut, yet who is always overshadowed by the memory of his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who disappeared (with the rest of the crew) during the Lima Project mission, which aimed at finding proof of alien life. Roy sacrificed relationships and smothered his own emotions to become the spaceman he is, but now he has to deal with everything he repressed when he is ordered by SpaceCom to recover his father’s spaceship with the aid of an old friend (Donald Sutherland): it is believed that the crew went rogue and are now casting the deadly electrical pulses.
Despite the slow rhythm, Ad Astra has moments of action and tension. There’s a rover chase on the moon which is nothing short of brilliant. What helps make the film a profound work is the score of Max Richter. The British-German composer alternates orchestra arrangements – similar to those of Hostiles – with his trademark synthesiser sounds. Combine that with remarkable cinematography and a fine performance of Brad Pitt – who leads almost every frame – and the result is the best space picture since Interstellar.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Ad Astra is released nationwide on 18th September 2019.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.
Watch the special Venice trailer for Ad Astra here: