Two years ago, writer-director James Gray took the epic, true adventure story The Lost City of Z and turned it into a grim treatise on mania and its encompassing dangers. His latest movie, Ad Astra's Big Budget Science Fiction Story is as big of a screenplay as it should have worked so far, being one of the world's biggest movie stars. Yet Ad Astra is just as poignant, unexpectedly emotional and receptive as Lost City making a remarkable companion piece and one of the most thoughtful and intricate genre films in years.  Brad Pitt plays the role of Roy McBride, a leading astronaut in the US space command program in the near future. McBride's reputation predates him for two reasons: he is known for being extremely calm even in dangerous situations, and is the son of an iconic astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones) whose work has inspired countless others to explore space. But after a powerful electric shock rises from the Earth's atmosphere, Roy learns that his father, who is about to die, may be alive and behind a wave, which could make humanity disappear in an instant. Roy's job is to reach his father, located in Neptune.
There is more than little The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Coppola The Apocalypse Now in Roy's journey to darkness in to Pitt. (Others may relate to Terence Malik's work because of this narrative, but Coppola's comparison holds much stronger.) While Roy is supernaturally restrained, the narrative emphasizes his disaffected, alienated nature. Through jagged pieces of lightning, we see Roy alienating his wife (Liv Tyler, in a short role) and being horrified by one of the most common fears a man may have: becoming a father. Pitt's work here is challenging – although Roy's strong but silent appearance is pushed to the end, he is not as expressive as the others. Pete, however, is more than up to the task, delivering unexpected depth and elegance. People rightly support his work in Once upon a time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino but Brad Pitt's best performance for 2019 was in Ad Astra .
This is also good, because Ad Astra is mostly a one-man show – there are a number of other actors, including Jones, Tyler, Donald Sutherland (as an old friend of Roy's father) and Ruth Negga, but Pete's screen is almost the entirety of the movie. Even as he continues to cut an extremely handsome figure, Pitt's work here implies that he has not lost his ability to be one of the most exciting and daring actors in the last 40 years. His concise work at OUATIH was extremely enjoyable, but with Ad Astra he was emotionally driven in a way he hadn't tried in a long time. Because as often as Roy is alone, the more time we spend with him, the more he becomes emotional, viscerally broken. This movie is not just Pitt's best work for 2019, but perhaps his best performance in decades.
And he is co-directed by Gray (who co-authored the film with Ethan Gross). Just as Z The Lost City of Z proved that it can combine emotional interiority with expansive, epic filmmaking, Ad Astra cites its ability to work in genre style with remarkable ease. Working with cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema (who collaborated with Christopher Nolan in Dunkirk and Interstellar ), Gray is able to acknowledge the best examples of the genre while creating beautifully new images, Sometimes when we see characters floating through the deepest reaches of outer space, there is a striking mix of quotations from Gray (such as 2001: Space Odyssey ) and what he creates. Credit is also due to Kevin Thompson, the film's production designer, for sowing soft hints on what might linger in the near future – such as paying for pricked items – without making the film a comic representation of futuristic costumes and technology.
Ad Astra is also the kind of movie anomaly in 2019 that people keep asking: it's an adult movie. Yes, the science fiction genre allows Gray to work in some action sequences that contradict Roy's somber and gloomy interior. (No need for details except to know that Roy has to confront the moon pirates and bloodthirsty monkeys at various points in the film, and this all makes perfect sense.) But Ad Astra is kind of an average budget (obviously costing $ 80 million in the neighborhood alone, which is amazing to keep in mind, since the effects and experience are so much more plausible) a movie that the audience wants among all the gargantuan blockbusters that populate the multiplexes. Being released by Disney – through 20th Century Fox, which colored the green film before it was purchased – is almost as shocking as the movie itself.
Ad Astra paid off by James Gray's extensive promise  The Lost City of Z . It's an intelligent, exciting soul epic that offers one of the biggest leading performances of the year, by an actor who has managed to be understated, even if he has never lost his star power. From a tense, dizzying opening sequence to a deep and emotionally rewarding ending, Ad Astra is an engrossing exploration of character, disguised as a science-fiction adventure. This is one of the best movies of 2019.
/ Movie rating: 9 out of 10
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