Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ad Astra

Directed by James Gray and written by Gray and Ethan Gross, Ad Astra is the story of an astronaut who travels to space to find his long-lost father who is believed to be found but conducting dangerous experiments that would threaten the universe. The film is a space adventure drama that follows a man whose devotion to his work forces him to deal with his father’s absence as he embarks on a journey to find his father and figure what he’s doing. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland. Ad Astra is an astonishing yet riveting film from James Gray.

A series of power surges is threatening the universe as an astronaut is tasked to travel to space all the way to Neptune where the surge is coming from as it is believed that the astronaut’s father is conducting strange experiments on a space station near Neptune. That is the film’s premise as it more plays into this father-son relationship where the son is dealing with trying to live under the shadow of his father’s legacy despite being his own man yet bears some issues as it relates to his father abandoning him and his mother many years ago. The film’s screenplay by James Gray and Ethan Gross is told mainly through astronaut in Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) who is a man devoted to his work yet it would cost him his marriage to Eve (Liv Tyler). During a routine repair job at a large space antenna, a power surge emerges and does damage to the antenna with McBride being able to survive as he’s asked by military personnel to go to Neptune where it is believed his father Dr. H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) is alive having been presumed lost during a mission known as the Lima project.

The Lima project that was led by Dr. McBride was meant to see if there’s any form of intelligence life outside of the solar system but something happened and Dr. McBride and his crew hadn’t been heard since until these power surges have emerged prompting Roy to take the mission. Much of the first act involves Roy learning about his father while taking on numerous psychological evaluations to see if he’s capable of carrying on this classified mission where he’s joined by his father’s old friend in Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) to the moon where they would get a ride to Mars yet they would encounter some trouble involving space pirates with Roy going on the trip via another crew as things become more troubling due to the surge. Arriving on Mars where he meets facility director Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga) who reveals that she met Dr. McBride as a child as her parents were part of his crew and they never returned as well. Yet, Roy becomes more troubled by more psychological evaluations by people on Mars prompting him to sneak on board a rocket to confront his father by himself.

Gray’s direction is definitely ambitious not just in scope and scale but also in its themes of existence and of the universe itself. Set in the near future and shot on location in Santa Clarita, California and on studio soundstages, Gray maintains some intimacy for scenes on Earth that include flashbacks of McBride’s life with Eve but also the disconnect they have as it relates to McBride’s devotion to his work. Through the usage of close-ups and medium shots, Gray does play into the emotional disconnect that McBride carries yet the mission he has to embark on forces him to become emotional where it would take a psychological toll on him eventually once he goes into space. The scenes set in outer space are quite vast with the usage of wide shots that captures the scale of McBride’s journey towards Mars and then Neptune. Notably as the world that Gray creates from the colony on the moon that looks a bit like a mall in its interiors while the underground facility on Mars is far more mysterious including the scene of McBride trying to sneak onto the rocket to Neptune.

Gray’s direction also has this air of mystery during its second act as it relates to the psychological interviews that McBride is doing as well as his attempts to contact his father. It’s a moment in the film that showcases McBride’s own revelations into his mission and what some are not telling him as there are only a few he can really trust. The film’s third act has Gray delve more into elements of surrealism but also isolation into the journey as McBride is forced to deal with himself as the film does bear a lot of visual and thematic elements that relate to other films yet Gray goes for something more emotional. The meeting between McBride and his father is emotional as it does play into their own disconnect with other people but also the fallacies of their own exploration although Dr. McBride does manage to find things that would be important to the universe. In the end, Gray crafts an intoxicating yet haunting film about an astronaut traveling through space to find his long-lost father.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does incredible work with the film’s cinematographer as it is a massive highlight of the film with its usage of low-key filters for some of the interiors and colorful lighting including some scenes on Mars and in some of the spaceships as well as emphasizing on a natural look for some of the exteriors and interiors on Earth as the photography also include additional work from Caleb Deschanel. Editors John Axelrad and Lee Haugen do brilliant work with the editing as it help play into some of the dramatic suspense while being straightforward in some parts while creating some stylish montages in scenes that play into the flashbacks and what McBride is dealing with in his journey. Production designer Kevin Thompson, with set decorator Karen O’Hara and supervising art director Christa Munro, does amazing work with the look of some of the spaceship interiors as well as some of the exteriors of the places and facilities on the moon and on Mars. Costume designer Albert Wolsky does terrific work with the costumes from the military uniforms some of the characters wear on Earth to the spacesuits that astronauts wear.

Hair/makeup designer Nana Fischer does nice work with the look of Dr. McBride when he’s unveiled for the film’s climax along with the beard that McBride grows during his journey. Visual effects supervisor Allen Maris does fantastic work with the visual effects as it play into elements of realism but also in the way some of the scenes in space are presented along with some chilling scenes inside a space station involving baboons. Sound designers Douglas Murray and Gary Rydstrom do superb work with the sound as it play into the sounds of spaceships heard from the insides as well as the sounds of rockets and other gadgets including the low-key sound of the power surges. The film’s music by Max Richter is phenomenal for its ambient-based score that has elements of orchestral bombast and serene synthesizers while music supervisors George Drakoulias and Randall Poster provide additional music from Lorne Balfe and Steffen Thum that add to the serene yet mysterious tone of the film.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Sean Blakemore as McBride’s head escort at the moon, Donnie Kershawarz as a ship leader for McBride’s trip to Mars, Loren Dean as the Mars’ ship second-in-command, Kimberly Elise and Bobby Nish as a couple of astronauts for the Mars ship, LisaGay Hamilton and John Finn as a couple of military officials briefing McBride about the situation, Natasha Lyonne as a customs officer on Mars, and John Ortiz as General Rivas who briefs McBride about his father and the Lima project. Liv Tyler is terrific in her small role as McBride’s ex-wife Eve as someone who feels pushed away from her husband while she would get contact from him about his mission as she deals with his emotional troubles. Donald Sutherland is superb as Colonel Pruitt as an old friend of Dr. McBride who accompanies McBride to the moon as he admits to having issues with his father while wanting to help McBride reach his destination.

Ruth Negga is excellent as Helen Lantos as facility director at a base on Mars who reveals some things to McBride about his father as well as what happened to her parents as she would help McBride to board the ship to Neptune knowing that there are many who are trying to stop him from being involved. Tommy Lee Jones is incredible as Dr. H. Clifford McBride as a revered astronaut who led the Lima project that was meant to be something big only for things to go wrong where Jones brings a mysterious quality to his character as someone who is believed to have gone insane. Finally, there’s Brad Pitt in a sensational performance as Major Roy McBride as an astronaut who is tasked to find his long-lost father as he deals with the severity of the mission as it’s a performance where Pitt is restrained for much of the film as he doesn’t do anything to emote until later on as he plays into the flaws of his character as it is one of Pitt’s finest performances.

Ad Astra is a tremendous film from James Gray that feature great performances from Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. Along with its ensemble cast, stunning visuals, immense production design, evocative music score, and themes of exploration and isolation. It’s a film that play into a man’s journey to find his long-lost father while coping with his own faults and the sins of his father that he would have to carry. In the end, Ad Astra is a spectacular film from James Gray.

James Gray Films: Little Odessa - The Yards - We Own the Night - Two Lovers - The Immigrant (2013 film) - The Lost City of Z - The Auteurs #67: James Gray

© thevoid99 2019

1 comment:

Brittani Burnham said...

I'm glad you liked this too!