Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
The spectacular AD ASTRA opens with a close-up of the most striking blue eyes since Paul Newman’s. Brad Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, an astronaut who appears to be serene and calm under intense pressure which belie the angry voice over we hear of his inner thoughts and turmoil. In what has to be the most visually arresting ten minutes opening sequences we will probably see at the movies this year, we see Roy in space repairing a rig which is huge in height when a power surge occurs and the structure shudders uncontrollably. We watch as bodies fall and disappear into the blackness of space while Roy remains calm and focused and survives. His grace under pressure has him being summoned by his superiors to assign him to a new project. It appears that his father, the most decorated astronaut in history and presumed dead after a mission to the planet Neptune that may have gone awry is believed to still be alive and the cause of these space power surges. Roy’s mission is to go to Neptune with a crew to ascertain what actually happened. His interplanetary voyage is astonishing in its beauty and execution.
Laced with heart-pounding action sequences which include a devastating stop at a space lab which was the hub of animal experiments gone horribly wrong, I was particularly impressed with one event, replete with not-so-subtle humour. On a commercial flight to the moon, accompanied by his father’s good friend (great to see Canada’s own, Donald Sutherland, wonderful as always), they land at a terminal which really could pass for Newark, New Jersey, complete with advertising posters and greeted by a performer who just may win an Emmy soon! When Roy finally arrives in Neptune and reunites with his father (a grizzled and ferociously effective performance from Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones), secrets are revealed.
To repeat myself, AD ASTRA is most strikingly-gorgeous movie I have seen this year and will be shocked if Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s name is not included in the list of Oscar nominees. Equally-impressive is Ruth Negga in a small role where she plays someone involved with Roy’s father last mission. Whereas AD ASTRA will bring to mind movies as “Gravity” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, I was struck as to how thematically similar and brilliantly executed it reminded me of “Apocalypse Now”. Brad Pitt’s performance is gobsmacking: stoic and subtle, it ranks very high among his career-best. AD ASTRA must be seen on the big screen to fully realize how impactful and outstanding it is. One of the year’s finest.
Walt Disney Studios Canada release AD ASTRA Friday, September 20, 2019.
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