James Gray’s “Ad Astra” has taken an interesting path to get released in theaters and receiving critical acclaim. Originally slated for a May release date, the film was pushed back to September with little-to-no word from the studio itself. The first two trailers that were released, while visually stunning, seemed very bland and unoriginal. It seemed like this movie was going to be dead on arrival, so the studio just tossed it into September, where movies go to die. However, after finally seeing the movie, I can firmly say “Ad Astra” is one of the best movies of the year and one of the best movies about space exploration ever. James Gray has crafted a film that is as stunning visually as it is emotionally poignant.

Brad Pitt has reminded movie-goers as a whole in 2019 why he is one of the best actors working today. With “Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood” and now “Ad Astra,” Pitt might be a lock for two Academy Award nominations. His performance in “Ad Astra” is powerful in its subtlety. His character, Roy McBride, is somehow never overshadowed by the vast settings he explores. This film is a character piece about someone who is devoid of connection and Brad Pitt plays it to perfection. It isn’t a “showy” or loud performance, but one that harbors enough emotion to resonate with the viewer. This is an incredibly difficult task, especially when the character he is playing is . So, scenes where McBride is simply performing the mundane can get a little slow, but James Gray implements a voice over from McBride’s perspective that places you into the characters headspace. It is some of the best characterization I have seen, both acting and writing wise.

It might just be stating the obvious to say that this movie looks stunning. I saw it on an IMAX screen and I was completely lost in this movie. The production design alone needs to be commended for the work on a lot of these worlds McBride visits. The film is set in the distant future where space travel is simply the norm, so there are human civilizations that appear on the moon and Mars that feel so real. Nothing seems too over-the-top or flashy because, once again, the focus of the film is never the visual splendor, but the journey that Roy McBride is on. The film dives into so many themes about loneliness, masculinity and destiny, which makes it far more impactful than any space exploration film I have seen since “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In fact, I don’t think the themes and concepts that James Gray explores would work in any other setting. The environment of space and the planets in our solar system are simply a tool to tell the grander story. Sure, it looks great, but it is never the point.

I want to keep this review short and with as little detail as possible because I saw “Ad Astra” knowing little to nothing about the movie with already lowered expectations and I came out adoring it. Plain and simple, you need to see this movie. It’s better than “Gravity,” “The Martian,” “Interstellar” and “First Man.” In fact, it almost feels like a fictionalized version of what Neil Armstrong was battling internally throughout “First Man.” “Ad Astra” is a thought-provoking piece that I know I will be revisiting sometime soon. 

Grade: A

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