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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Ad Astra | Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Natasha Lyonne | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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Ad Astra | Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Natasha Lyonne | Review

Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) did not even know his astronaut father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) was still alive after having commanded the Lima Project spaceship to Neptune nearly three decades before.

Roy has followed in his father’s footsteps and seems keenly suited to his space-based career. His pulse never rises above 80 bpm, even when he’s in a freefall off of a space station antenna, or chased by moon pirates in renegade rovers, or stowing onto a rocket with seconds to spare before its launch.

Roy’s wife Eve (Liv Tyler) is nothing more than a blur in his life. Neither can articulate their problem with each other, so they let the silence do it for them. Roy must endure automated psych evals almost daily, passing them calmly and efficiently almost to the point of boredom. His voice-over narration fills the viewer in on his thoughts, because he’s the kind of guy who would never verbalize them willingly.

When Roy is chosen for a top-secret mission that takes him to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, he learns his missing-on-a-mission-for-decades Dad may be alive. The senior McBride’s Lima Project ship is emitting power surges that are putting the universe at risk. One such surge caused Roy to tumble off of the space station antenna he was working on. Others wreak havoc with electrical systems on earth and elsewhere.

Roy’s mission takes him to a colonized moon and then to Mars, where he reads a message to his father. Pretty sure he could have done that from earth, no? Well, that transmission is just not good enough for Roy. Aided by Director of Operations Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga) he begins a personal quest to find Clifford McBride, stowing away on a rocket destined for Neptune and more importantly, Dad.

The younger McBride discovers that you can travel 2.7 billion miles from earth to find your (literally and figuratively) distant father, only to maintain that distance once in his presence. The complex non-relationship between the two serves as the driving force for Roy, who sees it as one last chance for a connection more meaningful than DNA.

The vastness of the solar system is the noiseless backdrop that contrasts tight shots of Roy’s implacable face. Solitude is palpable and highlights familial dysfunction until it is distilled into ambivalence, apathy, casual cruelty, and ultimately, acceptance.

Ad Astra (meaning “to the stars” in Latin) is not everyone’s cup of tea. Those looking for an action-packed roar of a film might find it too contemplative. Roy’s internal dialogue is a basis for exploration that rivals his inter-planetary travels. External conflicts, and there are a few, seem like small capsules of sound in the vast solitude and quietness of space.

Director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) helms a somber, introspective search for understanding and closure among the stars. Co-written with Ethan Gross (Klepto) Ad Astra is a film of fewer words than deeds; unspoken tensions and long periods of silence are punctuated by the gorgeous cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar).

Pitt lets his face do all of the acting, much of it helmeted and stoic. Jones is a sobering force as the unhinged Clifford McBride, whose connection to missions has always taken priority over his son. Ruth Negga has a tiny but crucial role in which she excels, and Liv Tyler is reduced to a series of images that remind the viewer once in awhile that Roy has a wife. Donald Sutherland and Natasha Lyonne co-star.

Sometimes it’s the space inside the explorer that leads to the greatest discovery.

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