By Hunter Johnson
Brad Pitt is one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors. . He’s played a cowboy, an ancient Greek hero, a secret spy, a psychopath, a guy who ages backwards, the list goes on. It only makes sense that he would eventually play a futuristic astronaut.
“Ad Astra,” starring Pitt and directed by James Gray, tells the story of Roy, an extremely reserved man who feels disconnected from the world, including his family.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Roy’s father, Clifford, who was only present in Roy’s upbringing through video messages from space, that is, until contact was lost with Clifford and he was supposed dead.
As far as space films go, “Ad Astra” has a lot to live up to. Recent years have given us instant classics such as “Interstellar,” “The Martian,” and “First Man.” These films have pushed boundaries of the science-fiction-film format
“Ad Astra” somehow manages to do the same.
Intermixing cosmic space travel with family relationships feels contradictory. It comes across as risky, odd, and, above all, refreshing.
This uncommon approach sets an interesting tone for the film. While the physical setting is in space, it’s more accurate to say that it’s set in Roy’s head. Roy narrates countless scenes as he attempts to find his place in the universe and within his own family. The tone is dark, dreary and ponderous.
The musical score helps define the film’s tone. Max Richter, who composed the scores for television series “The Leftovers” and “Taboo,” brings an enthralling score to “Ad Astra,” contributing to the sense of seclusion for Roy’s character, as well as a sense of the grandeur of space.
This grandeur, however, would not be possible without the visual effects. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who worked on the Christopher Nolan films, “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk,” provides imagery that is both shocking and unique. Whether it be spacewalks, moon pirates, exploding space stations, or all the other surreal moments on screen, Hoytema solidifies, in this film, his reputation as one of the great cinematographers of the modern age.
Brad Pitt holds all these aspects of the film together. He demonstrates raw talent as a man who has no idea how to communicate with others. His performance is slow-moving, well-calculated, and difficult to watch. Pitt has truly tapped into the psyche of an introverted astronaut who is losing touch with reality and shown us that his career is far from over.
Other supporting cast members include Liv Tyler as Roy’s wife, Donald Sutherland as a colonel helping Roy on his mission, and of course Tommy Lee Jones as Roy’s father, Clifford.
Both Tyler and Sutherland bring their own nuances to the story, but the actor who really stands out among the supporting cast is Tommy Lee Jones. While he doesn’t have very much screen time, he makes a huge impression out of what he does have and works perfectly alongside Pitt. The dynamic between father and son is filled with heartbreak and lost connection, being the most prevalent and most captivating aspect of the entire film.
“Ad Astra” manages to keep these captivating characters from seeming like average protagonists. In most moments of terror in films, characters react with fear and screaming, becoming a gateway for audiences to feel the same. But James Gray seems to understand that not all people react to things that same way. In “Ad Astra,” Roy is a character that remains calm in the face of danger. He makes decisions that the audience might feel odd or unrelatable, but because he’s a unique character with individual motivations, the audience ends up empathizing with him rather than feeling like they are him. This trait gives the audience a chance to see something new and unexplored.
“Ad Astra” is a gripping, quiet look at relationships, morality and the cosmos. It focuses its story on a broken man trying to rediscover himself, while still delivering on the gorgeous imagery of looking “to the stars,” as the title so aptly translates.
Hunter Johnson is a junior theatre major and an arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, reading and watching Star Wars and occasionally doing homework.