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Wednesday, October 2, 2019


(Brad Pitt)

Brad Pitt gives a remarkable performance as an astronaut on a mission to find his renegade father in James Gray’s sombre, mesmerising space epic. (Review by Patrick Compton - 9/10.)

There have been a number of interpretations of this film that refer to other space dramas, such as Gravity, First Man and even 2001: A Space Odyssey. By contrast, the movie that immediately came to mind for me was Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now.

In both films we have a young man journeying to the outer edges of human experience, physically and metaphorically, looking for a man who has assigned god-like powers to himself, “beyond good and evil” as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once put it. In Apocalypse Now it was a young soldier looking for the renegade Colonel Kurtz, holed up in his hideous jungle kingdom in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. In Ad Astra it’s a young astronaut, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), looking for his father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who was reputedly lost in space while on a secret mission 30 years ago.

Both films also share a similar kind of first-person narrator as the respective seekers analyse both their immediate environment and their own developing (or disintegrating) selves on an ongoing basis while on a mission to terminate their prey “with extreme prejudice”.

The plot is simple enough. It is the “near future” and McBride is sent on a mission to make contact with his father who has been presumed dead for many years while on a mission to Neptune to search for other sources of intelligent life.

We learn that the urgency of the mission is due to Earth being imperiled by mysterious surges of energy that are emanating from Neptune, and the authorities are convinced that McBride senior is behind it all.

Pitt, who plays the principal character in the film, plays virtually a lone hand as he agonises about his father and his mania for discovering intelligent life beyond the Earth, at the expense of his own family. He gives a magnificent performance which confirms, if confirmation is needed, that he is one of the great screen actors of his generation.

Although there are a number of plot contrivances, the movie becomes increasingly influenced by this father-son dynamic as the danger to earth grows greater, all spectacularly shot in space by the great Dutch-Swedish cinematographer Hoyte van Hotema (who also shot Interstellar).

Ad Astra is a thoughtful film, beautifully presented, with some shocking sequences, not least an encounter with some rabid space monkeys, but ultimately it’s a film less about the universe and more about the human condition.

Ad Astra is currently showing in Durban. – Patrick Compton