Ad Astra (**1/2) Slip Sliding Away

Director James Gray
Screenplay Gray, Ethan Gross
Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, John Ortiz


“…And I know a father
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again…”

Sometime in the near future, human kind has made significant inroads within our solar system. There are many ships travelling to a base on the moon. Another one on Mars and so on. Some years before, Roy McBride’s (Pitt) father, Clifford (Jones) is missing, presumed dead with the rest of his Lima Project crew just outside of Neptune. Roy grew up assuming the latter and became an astronaut himself.

Much is made in the early parts of Ad Astra about the Beats Per Minute of Roy’s heart. He’s always managed to maintain his calm, weather it is during a catastrophic shockwave through the space antenna that knocks him and others to the earth, or his wife (Tyler) walking out the door on their marriage. The importance of this, one would assume, is that it makes him a good candidate for whatever job there might be in the great beyond. The feeling is strange when we consider that explorers of the past only required a willingness to leave dry land in hopes for riches centuries before the 20th. Now so much is made on psychology in space travel, and we’ve not even left our own galaxy. At least we’re calm while we crawl.

Anyone who has seen the commercials for Ad Astra understands not only is Clifford still alive, but they want Roy to head out to round him up. Whatever he’s doing up there, it’s causing the people of earth with those intermittent shockwaves. This is where the willing suspension of disbelief really kicks into gear. It’s an awfully long way from Neptune to Earth for an electrical flare up on a space station to cause so much damage. Yet somehow solar flares don’t affect us as much as a cow farting.

What Roy finds, I will leave to the viewer. Gray’s themes are related to his Lost City of Z. The passion for discovery that leave those who love them in their wake. It’s the very inability for Roy to get excited about anything that keeps his wife at bay.

Reading my review of Gray’s movie about the exploration I found the exact same description applies here:

“If you watch this film, I believe that you will not be disappointed in its premise, execution or in any of the performances. They are all handled expertly. “

Like that film, the story is so long and drawn out, it’s tough to maintain any amount of interest. We are forced to watch a stoic man do some stoic things, while less valiant people do more interesting things offscreen. How do you make space pirates boring? Never let us see their faces, that’s how.

Topping it off we get to ponder what it is that Roy is thinking about. Is it his father, is it his wife? Is it humanity? No matter what he’s thinking, it’s about as exciting as hurtling through space in a tube for three months or more.

While the direction and the technique is tough to criticize, Gray’s method of garnering interest for story makes it hard to want to follow. Ad Astra could use more colorful characters to offset the droning centerpiece of his protagonist. Instead we get what amounts to friends at a funeral, where the only thing to look forward to is watching the casket sink into the ground.

Does this make us feel more of a connection to those above ground? Perhaps. But it sure isn’t fun to sit through.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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