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Review: Ad Astra – “A bold cinematic masterpiece”

In director James Gray’s near-future vision of our world, Ad Astra reveals an Earth that has already reached the stars nearby and is looking to go out even further. Brad Pitt stars as Roy, an astronaut charged with a top-secret mission to retrieve his father from the very outer reaches of the universe – the father who abandoned him decades earlier in order to be the first astronaut to find intelligent life out in the stars.

While many stories with space as the focus have just the one central journey – with a clear take-off and landing – Ad Astra just keeps pushing on, only pausing very briefly from time to time to catch its breath before ploughing on again. Pitt plays his part to perfection, offering up both the cold and distant man who compartmentalises his abandonment and father issues, and the man with great depths of emotion swimming just beneath the surface.

Roy is the primary focus here, the sun around which the rest of this cast gravitates, yet no part – no matter how brief – is treated as too small or inconsequential. With superb support from the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler and Donald Sutherland (and a delightful addition who appears to be uncredited!), it’s easy to see why, too. Many characters are in the film for only one or two scenes but we have to connect with each of them immediately and feel their motivations and personality. This is a big ask, perhaps, but one that’s made possible thanks to the quality of the cast and the apparent ease with which they take on the excellent script (co-written by Gray and Ethan Gross).

Thrown in with this incredible cast are the many impressive effects used for the film, effects that fold together brilliantly and make reality bleed into fiction in such a way that it makes the viewer feel how just-out-of-reach this whole future might be. As wonderful and magical as it all may look – and how alarmingly familiar in parts – it’s also frequently unsettling and scary. Because collectively, humans have an innate ability to conquer and divide in the quest for discovery. And not even going to the moon can turn us into one big happy family.

That tension is heightened further with the flawless use of sound. With music that cuts perfectly between quiet or total silence and a score so bold and powerful that you’ll feel it reverberating through your body, every sequence is made that much grander and more visceral. Make sure you see this on the biggest and best screen you can find. It’s the kind of film just made for the big screen, in a cinema with great sound. Ad Astra is an experience more than just a story and one that should be enjoyed with the utmost respect (so put your popcorn down right now!).

There is so much to be impressed by on first viewing this film but it’s also the kind of film that stays with you long after the credits and, as a result, one that also could benefit from a second viewing in order to fully appreciate the many layers woven within it.

Ad Astra is a bold cinematic masterpiece and an intimate father/son character study all wrapped up in one phenomenally executed piece of storytelling. It’s a staggering achievement, full of action, wonder and numerous jaw-dropping moments. It manages to take the visual and emotional feel of Gravity and head out further into the unknown, with a relentless determination and singular focus.

Come award season, expect recognition not just for Pitt’s performance but for Gray’s work and that of the sound and visual effects teams. What they have all pulled off here is nothing short of miraculous.

Ad Astra opens in the UK on 18th September 2019. It hits the US on 20th September 2019.

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