Director: James Gray
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland
UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox UK
Genre: Sci-Fi | Drama | Thriller • Year: 2019 • Country: US • Running Time: 124 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 • Image: Colour • Language: English • Rating: 12A
If further proof was needed that James Gray is one of Hollywood’s most under-appreciated filmmakers then Ad Astra is most definitely it. Reuniting the director with his The Lost City of Z screenwriter Ethan Gross, Ad Astra may mark a notable change in style for the man behind the Palme d’Or nominated dramas We Own the Night, Two Lovers, and The Immigrant, but this mysterious and existential new space odyssey – driven by a superbly understated central performance from Brad Pitt – is undoubtedly Gray’s most ambitious and enthralling work to date.
Pitt stars as astronaut Major Roy McBride, son of esteemed and highly decorated astronaut H. Clifford McBride, who is tasked with journeying into deep space in order to convey a message to his father’s long-lost Lima Project expedition – thought to be floating somewhere near the rings of Neptune – which may well be connected to a series of mysterious power surges that are causing chaos throughout the solar system.
Ad Astra is a breathtakingly beautiful film, packed with thrilling effects and designs, and expertly lensed by Interstellar cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema. Gray’s approach to the sci-fi genre is unique – and he proves himself more than capable of tackling such a weighty, big-budget picture – though tonally and thematically it does of course draw comparison with the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Interstellar, and Gravity – Ad Astra‘s great sci-fi predecessors – as well as Tree of Life and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in McBride’s Charles Marlow-esque quest into the unknown.
Gray’s near future is a fascinating one, in which, commercialised space travel is the norm, Earth’s landscape has been re-defined by ultra-high transmitter towers and shuttle launch pads, and the moon has been transformed into a crowded tourist hotspot awash with selfie sticks, gaudy souvenir shops and popular fast food restaurants – as well as a DHL! However, as startling as it first seems, it is a future that feels both highly plausible and strangely familiar, and it is utterly fascinating to see this speculative future brought to life in such a realistic and detailed fashion.
Gray’s contemplative and multi-layered film is one that often meditates on the nature of human existence and our purpose in the universe, taking an intimate and introspective look at isolation, loneliness, and morality. It is also effectively grounded with a depth and sense of realism that is often absent from similar works.
Pitt is perfectly cast as McBride and demonstrates a clear connection with the role. It is a meditative and expertly nuanced performance fully deserving of the plaudits he has received thus far. The film is further boosted by some solid supporting performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler.
Ad Astra may not have the overall wow factor of some other similar IMAX blockbusters, but that isn’t the aim. Gray strives for intimacy, emotional depth and philosophical meaning and absolutely delivers. There are some slightly farfetched moments thrown in, and a fun Fast-and-Furious-in-space style lunar rover chase on the moon, but as Gray’s first proper foray into blockbuster territory it proves a real winner. See the film in IMAX for the full experience!
The IMAX release of Ad Astra is in cinemas NOW and will be digitally re-mastered into the image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience® with proprietary IMAX DMR® (Digital Re-mastering) technology. IMAX remains the premier destination for space exploration cinema and only in IMAX cinemas will audiences experience the full vision and vastness of director James Gray’s outer space adventure.