Ad Astra (5 stars)

Ad Astra

Venice 2019: Brad Pitt dazzles in James Gray's stellar sci-fi adventure

James Gray boldly goes where few filmmakers have gone before with this stellar sci-fi, co-written with Ethan Gross. After impressing with slightly off-the-radar efforts like Two Lovers and The Lost City of Z, Gray takes a huge step up commercially, operating with a sizeable budget and a major star, in the shape of Brad Pitt, without ever compromising his vision.

Set in the near future, the story sees Pitt's highly capable astronaut Roy McBride searching for his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), a pioneering space explorer in his own right, who years earlier led an initiative called The Lima Project to reach Neptune and look for signs of life. While McBride Senior was initially thought dead, government officials have begun to think otherwise after a lethal cosmic ray surge – coming from Neptune – strikes Earth.

Roy's mission is to travel to Mars, incognito, to transmit a message in the hope of reaching his father. This first means a trip to the Moon (on a commercial Virgin flight, no less) – where T-shirt vendors now loiter and unidentified pirates on high-speed 'rovers' look to interfere with our protagonist's journey across the crusty grey surface. Once he joins a rocket to Mars, his classified mission gets even deadlier; a mayday call in deep space is particularly shocking.

While Gray mixes elements of horror and action – at times it feels like Apocalypse Now in space, with McBride like Martin Sheen's Vietnam War captain – it's also a deeply philosophical experience. Examining man's overwhelming desire to reach for the stars, this is a visceral study in how the sins of the father are visited upon the son. 'I don't know if I hope to find him, or finally be free of him,' muses McBride during a dazzling turn from a resurgent Pitt. He has, quite simply, never been better.

Screening as part of the Venice International Film Festival 2019. General release from Wed 18 Sep.

Ad Astra

  • 5 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 2h 2min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: James Gray
  • Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland
  • UK release: 18 September 2019

In the near future, Roy McBride (Pitt) is an astronaut searching for his father Clifford (Jones), himself a pioneering space explorer. But Roy’s classified mission turns deadly. Gray’s stellar third film is a huge step up, mixing horror and action with deeper themes and anchored by a dazzling turn from Pitt, who has never…