Ad Astra Per Aspera
"Through hardships to the stars". An apt title for this intergalactic odyssey of downbeat mystery and conflict set upon by our stoic journeyer, Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt. When powerful electronic surges impact Earth in non-ending succession, wreaking chaos and death, it is famed astronaut Clifford McBride, long thought dead, who is suspected of causing the destruction. Leader of Lima project, a mission designed to successfully monitor space outside of the influence of the sun, McBride Senior vanished sixteen years prior, leaving his teenage son fatherless, yet not without legacy. Fast-forward to present day, Roy McBride, proudly walking in his father's footsteps as a renowned astronaut, is called upon to help establish connection with the supposed crew of Lima Project.
Brad Pitt delivers some of his best work here, in his unrelentingly sober portrayal of a man injured by broken relationships, hurt by the absence of his father and impenetrable in his cold, hard, emotionless approach to life. As beautiful as the visuals are, as great as the ambition, this is a story about Brad Pitt's character, plain and simple.
And it's a controversial film. Not because of the material it contains; but rather because of the material it doesn't contain. It's what you might very accurately term a "slow burn" - a slow, almost methodically planned story, as though it did indeed move in a low gravity environment, with space and time to breath and live in every scene, with plenty of close-ups and lingering shots. Many audience members have already been repulsed by this, with reports of slumber and even disputes as to the purported relevance of the film, some condemning it as a snooze-fest; others hailing it as a sublime, thought-provoking, exciting masterpiece. It's for each person to come to his own conclusion.
With all that said, I enjoyed many aspects of the movie, and ultimately recommend it to anyone who's capable of sitting through some tedium for a really unique journey. I thought the unsubtle voice-over was a plus, and I really appreciated the viewpoints offered on mass commercialism and society, and the final message, which, although interpreted in different lights by different viewers, remains a positive and surprising innovation, I think. Call it dull, call it pretentious, call it arty - I don't care. It's a movie that doesn't try to be something it isn't - James Gray makes sure to tell the story he wants told, instead of pandering to action-loving audiences who perhaps would have ensured a higher overall rating, had he succumbed to popular yet predictable tropes. As it is, Ad Astra is its own product, distinctly different from others, and somehow the more elusive and meaningful for it. There's more that could be said, but that is enough for now.
Some good news is the low amount of offensive content in the movie. It isn't meant for an extremely young audience, but thankfully the decisions were made nonetheless that were very mature. A relationship is depicted with very mild nonsexual imagery, a man jokingly gives another the finger, the f-word is used once ("It f-ing sucks") with sh**, h*ll, G*d-d*mn, bast**d, d*mn all being used quite sparingly. Violence is the most extreme category, with some brief sequences of gore. Precaution should certainly be taken here. Although fleeting, the violence is the most impactful, especially with regard to tone and circumstance.
I wish you well, and hope you see what I did in Ad Astra.