It seems strange to be saying this so late in a famed actor's career, but in the year 2019, Brad Pitt notches in another performance that, in tandem with Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, may yet see him riding high come awards season. Far from the California sunshine, Pitt stars in Ad Astra as an astronaut pulled into the crevice of space in hopes to reunite with his previously thought deceased father played by one, Tommy Lee Jones.
My immediate first thought upon the film's conclusion was to not view Ad Astra in lieu of recent space-centric films like First Man, The Martian, or even Interstellar. Thankfully, this works well in its favor as each of the previously mentioned films bring their own varying levels of historical accuracy, scientific leniency, or just flat out fiction. Ad Astra's most striking initial trait is its attention to detail when it comes to envisioning a near-future that feels both believable, and within arms reach. Ad Astra's imagining of a future that has commercialized space travel can potentially feel like an extended exhibition at a World's fair—but for someone like myself, the attention to detail conveyed innumerous depth, as opposed to needless scenery.
Strangely, I came away from the film with the viewpoint that it bore most resemblance to 2017's Blade Runner 2049. Both films are primarily anchored by the development and progression (or sometimes, regression) of an initially stoic, yet hardened protagonist. Each share an element of mystery tied to the core plot, and locales visited are all but additional pieces to an increasingly complex puzzle. Sound design and cinematography both play a crucial role in adding to the aforementioned immersion, and although 2049 is among the most well-regarded in those categories, Ad Astra being a tier below isn't too terrible a slight.
However, with those near-identical praises, also come its biggest flaws. Ad Astra only clocks in at about a two hour runtime, but the pace that events unfold at often elongate a feeling of prolonged idling. If films categorized as 'slow burns' aren't typically something you're willing to endure, this may not be one that I'd recommend. But for those interested in traveling to a near-fully fleshed out universe, driven by a lead performance that rivals Pitt's very finest, you may just stumble upon one of the year's sleeper hits.
My lasting impressions waver a bit between two viewpoints. The first, and most obvious, being that the film's biggest downfall is a weak third act. It's certainly serviceable, and wraps about as best it can, but given the monumental stakes established in the first two thirds, I'd have hoped for something a bit more polished. (But I get it, endings are hard to land.) However, in direct contrast to that, comes the viewpoint of journey versus destination. After mulling over my only viewing of the film, I came to appreciate the entirety of it more when prioritizing that of Pitt's progression as a character, as opposed to a top-heavy weigh in on Ad Astra's climactic conclusion. Although the jury is still out on how the other remaining heavy hitters of the year will fare—namely Robert Pattison and Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse, Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari, as well as Joaquin Phoenix's titular Joker—Brad Pitt's Roy McBride certainly has my vote as a prime contender to win Best Actor in a Lead Performance by the year's end. Whether or not that type of performance is enough to make you want to punch a ticket to your local theater remains to be seen.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.