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Ad Astra

"ambitious and atmospheric space drama showcases Brad Pitt's star power"

★★★★ - STUFF 

- Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) has always lived in his father's shadow.

Despite having reached the rank of Major and achieved his goal of working in space, there's no way he can compete with Earth's most decorated astronaut.

Twenty-nine years ago, when Roy was just a teenager, H Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led the first manned craft into the outer parts of our solar system. He was the first human to pass both Jupiter and Saturn. 

Project Lima aimed to find intelligent life elsewhere, but contact with McBride snr was lost some 16 years ago as he neared Neptune. 

But now our home planet is facing a new crisis. Global power surges – apparently caused by bursts of cosmic rays – have left more than 40,000 dead and city infrastructures in tatters.

Anxious to solve the problem quickly, Spacecorp calls on the one man known for his calmness. Rumour is, Roy McBride's pulse rate never goes over 80, no matter what the crisis. However, there's a complication, the company are convinced at the rays are eminating from Project Lima and that "Cliff" McBride has gone rogue. They want Roy to travel to Mars via the Moon to record a personal plea to his estranged Pop, but will he be able to put his mission above any emotion?

Director and co-writer James Gray's (The Lost CityWe Own the Night)ambitious and atmospheric space drama is a fabulous showcase for the star power of Brad Pitt. In virtually every scene and delivering extensive introspective voiceovers, Pitt is the heart and soul of the movie. Even more impressively, Roy McBride couldn't be more different to his scene-stealing stuntman Cliff Booth from Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Expect him to deservedly feature during the upcoming Awards Season. 

It's just a pity though that the rest of Ad Astra, while a sometimes compelling watch, can't quite match his sparkling efforts. Gray and his fellow scribe, Fringe's Ethan Gross, are clearly aiming for (The Tree of Life's Terrence) Malick-meets-Kubrick (2001's Stanley) by way of Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness, the book that inspired Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now). But while the themes are weighty, the canvas sometimes breathtaking and the special-effects top-notch, this seems more like an elevated version of some of the original Star Trek movies. With all the talk of sins of the father, one man going rogue and the search for a cre-a-tor, I couldn't shake the feeling of this being a mash-up of installments IIII and V

It also suffers slightly from being unsure if it wants to be an all-out action movie (a la Gerard Butler's Geostorm, which poses a similar threat to humanity) or a mood piece. Long periods of meditative musings on the human condition are juxtaposed with moments of heart-racing tension.

That's doesn't mean Ad Astra isn't a great sci-fi flick, it just lacks Gravity's peerless sense of peril and stunning sense of space, or Interstellar's intensely emotional familial drama and commitment to getting the science spot on.

As its name suggests, Ad Astra reaches for the stars, but ends up enhancing just one.

- James Croot, STUFF

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