SO many things to say about James Gray’s “Ad Astra,” which opens next Friday, September 20th.
The main thing is, this role of Roy, an astronaut in the near future, gives Brad Pitt a chance to shine dramatically and in a lead role. It could be one of two Oscar nominations for him, with Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” his other one, in supporting. Wouldn’t that be a kick?
But “Ad Astra” is a little lost in space, sort of a Terrence Malick meditation in the pitch black skies. It’s a gorgeous movie to look at, not just because Brad Pitt is, well, Brad Pitt. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography feels as if he went into space and shot there, on the moon, Mars, and Neptune. Even the Earth looks good under Hoytema’s gaze.
This is not a movie of a lot of action, though. It’s a lot of interior monologues, and feelings. There’s no supporting roles big enough to mean much. It’s all Brad. Even Tommy Lee Jones, playing Brad’s long lost thought-dead astronaut father doesn’t get much of a star turn. Some supporting players are literally left twisting in the wind. I have no idea what happened to Donald Sutherland’s character, Ruth Negga’s, or Liv Tyler’s although at least she, Liv, has some character development. I’m giving a shout out to Sean Blakemore, who is not getting his due in movies.
No, it’s all about Roy McBride, a classic loner, no kids, a disgruntled wife (Tyler), who’s never gotten over his dad disappearing into space decades earlier. Turns out he’s alive, and causing trouble on Neptune. NASA is sending him to find Clifford McBride and stop him. So the movie is basically Roy ruminating on their relationship. SO it’s up to Brad to big his big game, not just the fun stuff that we know he’s capable of.
And he does it. Not since “Moneyball” has Pitt seemed so engaged and confident. He’s not just a movie star, a tabloid subject, etc. He’s an actor. And “Ad Astra” gives him a chance to show us what he can do. It helps to that lines and crevices have arrived on his perfect face, giving him more character than ever. It’s possible that Pitt, like Clint Eastwood, will find the “mature”part of his career the most fulfilling. I’m down for it.
Since the Oscar prognosticators are going mad with projections, I’d put him squarely on the bill with Michael B. Jordan, Adam Driver, Taron Egerton, Edward Norton, Christian Bale, and Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s early yet, there’s a lot more to come. but at least we’re in the same galaxy, er, on the same page.