An astronaut travels to the farthest reaches of the solar system to locate his long-lost father in Ad Astra. In the near future, humanity has set up colonies on the moon and Mars and have sent out missions to find signs of intelligent life in space. Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut following in the footsteps of his father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who has gone missing many years ago during The Lima Project, set up in the orbit of Neptune. When the solar system is struck by a mysterious power surge, U.S. Space Command traces its origins to The Lima Project and sends Roy on a top-secret mission to try and get into contact with his father, who might still be alive after all this time.
Ad Astra is an introspective science fiction drama from director and co-writer James Gray (The Lost City of Z) about an astronaut trying to locate his long-lost father. Estranged from his wife Eve (Liv Tyler), Roy McBride is sent to the Mars base, accompanied by Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), on a top-secret mission to try and get into contact with his father H. Clifford McBride, whose dedication to finding life in space has reportedly lead to him going crazy. It is on the Mars base where Roy meets Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga), who provides assistance to help Roy complete his mission.
With Ad Astra, James Gray answers the question of what 2001: A Space Oddysey would be like if it was directed by Terrance Mallick, with a little bit of Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” thrown in for good measure. Narrated by Roy McBride’s inner-monologue, Ad Astra tackles themes of isolation, while also exploring the psychoanalytical belief of the son having to pay for the sins of the father. As such, the film is essentially a solo vehicle for Brad Pitt and a rotated cast of co-stars, such as a first act cameo by Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga’s character of Helen, who helps Roy reach the final leg of her journey. Even though he is second-billed in the cast, Tommy Lee Jones is primarily present in Ad Astra through archive video footage. In similar regard, Liv Tyler is barely a presence as Roy’s estranged wife Eve, who is literally a figure in the background for most of her screentime.
While I’ll contend that Ad Astra is a very well-made film that probably gives one of the most realistic depictions of life in space, it also has a very slow-moving story. The 123 minute running time of the film feels much longer than it does and it seems at times that James Gray is much more interested in Roy McBride’s thoughts on the mission than the mission itself. That’s not to say that Ad Astra isn’t a film worth seeing, just keep in mind that it is a science fiction film more in the vein of Stanley Kubrick or Andrei Tarkovsky than even Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. If you like your science fiction filtered through Terrence Malick and Apocalypse Now, then Ad Astra is the film for you.