Ad Astra REVIEW: A deep dive into Brad Pitt’s phenomenal acting – but what ELSE is there?

While the more scientifically-prone among us will probably lap up the truly spectacular galactic detail like a cat to a dish of freshly-poured cream, the rest are left struggling over whether to laugh or frown during some pivotal scenes.

The film’s premise is utterly heart wrenching – Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) is a detached and numb astronaut living in the “near future”, constantly under the shadow of his superhero father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones).

Clifford, also a space ranger, disappeared when Roy was only 16 on an ambitious mission to Neptune to pioneer the Lima Project.

Greedy and determined to discover the presence of alien life, Clifford all but loses the plot and sparks a series of catastrophic events that eventually send his estranged son through the cosmos in a bid to – you guessed it – save the universe.

So far the tropes are coming thick and fast, and you’d be forgiven for thinking Ad Astra is another cog in the male-dominated machine.

But Brad delivers a very different protagonist. His character often saves the day and comes out on top as you’d expect, but he doesn’t grandstand or relish the praise, in fact he shies away from the attention and simply wants to complete the mission he’s been tasked with.

Known as the only astronaut to permanently keep his heart rate at resting speed, things quickly begin to spiral out of control when all of his deep-buried feelings about his estranged father and abandonment issues come flooding back, and all of a sudden, NASA want to get rid of him, fearing the unpredictable.

A race against time ensues as Roy fights to find his father, and there are plenty of devastating moments throughout this space epic – including an unfortunate encounter with an ape. Make no mistake though, this is a one-man show, and there are plenty of intense close-ups on the 55-year-old Hollywood star’s face to prove it.

Even Roy’s wife, the aptly-played Liv Tyler, (Armageddon throwback, anyone?) barely ever comes into frame; in fact she’s mostly a whisper of an entity on the periphery of the astronaut’s vision.

This is on purpose of course, as Roy has spent years perfecting the art of cutting himself off from human interaction, especially those close to him.

Luckily for those committing themselves to experience this filmmaking endeavour, Brad’s minutiae of expressions will keep you engaged and interested, and he appears to “solve” the mystery of living a happy human life by the end credits.

READ MORE: Ad Astra release date: When is it in cinemas? What is the run time?

You’re left with hope

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Yet as the film builds to its conclusion, and we gear up to see a dramatic action-sequence that satisfies the epic movie’s slow burn thus far, things take a rather strange and abrupt turn.

Roy gets the closure he’s been seeking in a truly brilliant Pitt and Jones confrontation; but wait, the science.

What about those altogether vague electrical surges that have been mentioned on repeat so far? And how will Roy stop the universe from combusting all on his own? Is it simply a case of pressing the stop button? You’d hope there would be a more complex explanation for such an intricately-crafted film, but alas, it’s all but swept under the rug unfortunately.

There’s even a psychedelic scene in which Roy attempts to surf through one of Neptune’s rock-filled rings in order to get back to his space craft. Incredible – literally.

Sadly none of this compares to the final sequence in which Roy attempts to get back to Earth – only billions of miles away he assures.

But putting the detail aside is thankfully not a big ask, as this James Gray venture is clearly more focused on the human condition.

What’s more, the sense of what the future could bring seems worryingly near, and brings it into even starker relief when Roy’s trip to the moon is done commercially, complete with spaceport Subway on the other side.

These little touches are interwoven into the plot with watertight finesse, yet the universe is inherently dystopian, full of danger and fear, and it’s clear the production are attempting to capitalise on the headlines of today.

Is that wise? Or wanted? Or is it merely the expected? Another politically-motivated voice with star power force-feeding a desire to focus on the planet and ensure a future for humanity.

What the film does succeed in, is showing how beautiful and precious Earth is, when juxtaposed by the terrifying unknown of the rest of the mammoth solar system.

Be prepared to go to dark, dark places as the world of Ad Astra completely envelopes you – not unlike Matthew McConaughey’s space opera Interstellar.

But overwhelmingly, and quite unexpectedly, at the end of this thrilling motion picture there is hope. It’s not twee, or gentle, or a “feel-good” flourish, but a real, tangible hope. You’re left with a profound appreciation for this green and blue planet… Is it enough?

Ad Astra is in cinemas on September 18.

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