7/10 My 5th Most Anticipated Film of 2019, “Ad Astra” involves one of my personal favorite subjects…outer space. Brad Pitt is having a great 2019 since this is following up “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”, which he was terrific in. Here, we get to see another side of Pitt, much more serious, stern and regretful and he handles the role extremely well, reminding us all why he is the A-list star that he is. There are some big names in this cast (Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones, etc.) but they all have limited screen time in comparison to Pitt. Instead of crafting a space opera revolving around a rescue mission, invading aliens or other subject matter we get a lot of, “Ad Astra” is far more “Interstellar” than “Star Wars”. The plot is very focused on a father/son relationship and how its decay has impacted this man (Pitt) in every aspect of his life from his love life to his career goals to his overall emotional state. This personal, family related bond that holds the film together is emotionally well done and a nice change of pace from most space films which are more action oriented. This is a gorgeous film in terms of the visual effects, hauntingly beautiful score and awe inspiring cinematography. The production value, acting and plot are all very strong. There were some unexpected plot points involving a distress call and space pirates that added some needed action to the film, which I really enjoyed. The film does have some minor problems overall though. For starters, Liv Tyler, who plays Pitt’s failed love interest is completely underutilized both as a character and from an actress stand point. We know almost nothing about her or who she is and she is only there to serve as a generic love interest to develop Pitt’s character. Their relationship could have been fleshed out a bit more to make things more impactful. The film has narration which I was not a big fan of because of how inconsistent it was. For a film to have narration it should be continual (i.e.- “Sin City”) or nonexistent. This film front loads it in the beginning, then goes for a solid hour or so without it and then briefly brings it back in the end, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. There are also some minor pacing problems. Most of the film has strong pacing and keeps you interested and invested but in the second half of the film there are definitely some slow moments that drag and might make you glance at your watch. There are also some coincidences that were a bit of a stretch but nothing too offensive overall. Despite these flaws, director James Gray continues to craft strong, original films and the more of his films I watch, the more I appreciate him as a film maker. His direction is really controlled and confident in this film. This personal story of strained relationships with strong emotional content and fantastic production elements makes this a film that may be flawed but is definitely worth seeking out for a more sobering space tale than we are used to. Take the next rocket ship to the theater and give this film a shot.
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