Directed by James Gray
Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross
Starring Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler (barely in this), Ruth Negga (underutilized), Tommy Lee Jones (*Astro Dad™)
Running Time 2 hours, 2 minutes
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“I will deal with him. I will deal with my father.”
-a quote from BRAD PITT IN SPACE, that induces a thrown back head with eye roll
If Papa Yurasits aka my dad was stranded across town I’d have to take a long hard look at my datebook situation to see if I was free to make the trek. If he was marooned in space… sorry dad, not today.
In James Gray’s bloated space drama, Ad Astra, Brad Pitt takes numerous space taxis in an effort to rescue his dad from Neptune. Over the course of the two hour length film, I was taken on a magical journey alongside astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) witnessing him travel, in what feels literally like painstakingly real time, all across the universe. He goes from earth to the moon to Mars to Neptune and back to Earth and the most exciting aspect of this entire tedious adventure is: space monkeys. OK. Don’t worry I’ll get to the space monkeys, but first let’s talk about space.
There is really no situation in a million freaking years that I would travel to outer space. The idea of space nauseates me. What if I fell out of the ship and ended up twirling around in the galaxy? I be forced to spend my final days thinking about how hungry I was for extra cheese pizza or even worse, I would fall into one of those wormhole things and have a McConaughey type experience. Or maybe I’d get stranded on a planet where time moves like a snail and when I finally figured out how to get off that stinkin’ planet, I get back to Earth to learn eight hundred years have passed and now dogs (doggos in Canadian terms) run everything. I mean. OK, that might not be that bad. But you still ain’t getting me on no rocketship, nah.
When I look up to the stars it sends a shiver up my spine. Much like Roy’s dad, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) though, I am sure my dad would be fine. He was always a loner, not a rebel, more like a potato. He would be fine chilling in space alone. Cliff had decided to take a space mission in search of extraterrestrials when Roy was in his teens and never returned. According to Roy, Cliff was a “pioneer”. I see him more like a deadbeat dad. Some thirty odd years later, there are signs that Roy’s father may still be alive and may be the root of Earth’s future destruction. Awesome! So Cliff has to head to Mars to send some Daddy-grams in hopes to make contact with this recluse so that he can find him, shut down the mission and save earth.
This is where Donald Sutherland comes in. Apparently he was friends with Cliff from way back. Remember that time they went to space before? He has space experience! I think this is why Liv Tyler (Roy’s wife - never caught her name, sorry) is in this too. They all have that SPACE CONNECTION; the outer space movie making experience. Regardless of their resumes, Donald mumbles some lines and has a heart emergency IN SPACE. We never see him again. Much like the story, neither of these characters really do anything. Part of me wondered though if they were as fortunate as I to hear hear Roy’s internal monologue too? It is something to chew on, I suppose. Sadly, the internal monologue, was the star of space giving me every little detail about what Roy was thinking, what he was doing and who he was with or not with for that matter.
There are many moments in which this movie looks really cool. As much as I am terrified of space, I tend to find the overall look of space films to be typically really fun to watch. Simply put, they look neat. Sometimes they even have things to say, for example like one of my favorite flicks of all time, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A movie that Ad Astra seems to wish it could be. According to iMDB, Director James Gray had this to say when he was describing his feature, Ad Astra,, "Sorta like, if you got 'Apocalypse Now' and '2001' in a giant mash-up and you put a little [Joseph] Conrad in there." No! (said in Klopek voice™)
The movie making business is fascinating. Typically when a filmmaker starts out, they make pictures with miniscule budgets. Every penny is scrutinized. I am going through this now. Our producer keeps hounding us for receipts (seriously Ian, we love ya pal) and vetoing my dreams of REAL bloody limbs and pizza delivery car chases, Rockford style. Of course, my film pal/co-director and writer, Katie McBrown and I want Pizzaman to turn out great, but we have a tiny budget and have to work within those means. For me, Ad Astra is an example of what happens when a director gets a big pile of money and goes wild. With this much freedom you become reckless. You end up with vehicular chases on the moon and space monkeys ripping off faces (told I would get back to the space monkeys). If you don’t spend the money, they will never give you that stack of cash again. This movie makes sense, when you think about it in these terms. If you get a bag of coins you’re not gonna film a movie at Senior Citizens home, you’re gonna take the production space. So, the lesson is: have a party, put a space monkey in it!
This movie didn’t do anything for me. Maybe if something happened I would have cared. Like maybe instead of Cliff, saying things like “I never once thought about home. I have infinite work to do.” And instead said, “Hello Roy, please meet my alien wife and son, Harry.” Maybe then, I would have appreciated this film, because it would have decided to get weird. Here, everyone thought Cliff was just in space hanging out and possibly causing Earth’s doom. Nah, he is just having space meatloaf and mashed potatoes with his new rad alien family and watching Cheers. Hollywood needs to get more weird. They also have to not cast Ruth Negga in a film to only completely waste her absolute awesomeness. OK. Listen, if dramatic dad space flicks are your thing, then this is the “space jam” for you.
As I drove home after the film I couldn’t help but be reminded of something my film pal Francis X. Friel, the founder of Moviejawn said to me, “James Gray is incapable of making a good movie.” I agree.
*The term Astro Dad™ is compliments of Cinema76's Daniel Scully