Film Review: Ad Astra

The film’s title is Latin meaning “to the stars” and this is definitely where this film shoots for. It’s not a blockbuster filled with thrills, fast editing or comedic riffing. Though director James Gray did go “to the stars” when he picked out his cast. Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Nega and Tommy Lee Jones all feature with Pitt being our entire focus and the rest of the cast lending their clout to bring credibility to minor but important roles.

It was refreshing to head into the cinema to see a large budget, original science fiction film. Though looking back at previous years you see films like Interstellar, Gravity and First Man but, however, they’re in a separate league. The “sci-fi” of it all is not the refreshing part; it’s the storytelling. Most science fiction these days reaches for either hope or apocalyptic. This reaches for existential.

Ad Astra has more in common with Apocalypse Now than it does any of its comparable contemporary films. It’s a slow journey, of both the mind and space, to a destination unwanted. Pitt gives an incredible physical performance, conveying so much by saying so little. Seeing him on the big screen is an absolute must.

And that’s another important factor about this movie: it’s so cinematic. I often find myself watching smaller (and by that I mean films that didn’t cost $200 million) wondering if I could just be watching this at home. I’m not necessarily after spectacle, I just want to see filmmaking that justifies my trip to the cinema and also uses what cinema has that the TV experience just doesn’t.

I’ve seen a lot of films recently that whilst made with great technical precision, they didn’t push the use of the camera. I think it might just be an unconscious and comfortable thing to fall into the general visual language of filmmaking. James Gray went for what the master filmmakers of the 70’s were doing but pushes the envelope with technology. It’s seamless, with perfectly blended CG, giving us a pure cinema experience.

Ad Astra is fantastic filmmaking, great story telling and good performances:

★★★★

Written by Benjamin Boekelaar