AD ASTRA (12A) 123 mins
An astronaut’s rigidly compartmentalised mind begins to unravel in this rumination on single-mindedness and the cost to those focused on a solitary goal from director James Gray.
As you can guess from the above, this is no space romp and, unfortunately, this pedestrian trawl through the stars is all the worse for it.
What we have here is an hour’s worth of premise fleshed out with a lunar car chase, complete with shoot-out, and the strangest gratuitous baboon episode, which seems to be a metaphor for the lead character’s own rage, but actually comes across as random and clumsy.
Set in the near future (although with bases on the moon and Mars, not that near) Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride, who lives in the shadow of his father, Clifford B (Tommy Lee Jones), the greatest space explorer in history, right up to his disappearance 13 years into a mission in search of extra terrestrial life.
This has left Roy with a deep anger and unresolved emotional issues that he has suppressed to the point where he is able to outwit regular psychological assessments, his heart rate staying steady even when a huge power surge from deep space throws him earthward from a colossal interstellar antenna.
It’s this apparent calm in any storm that prompts his military masters to recruit him onto a highly classified mission which suggests that his heroic father may in fact still be alive somewhere around the planet Neptune and is responsible for the surges that threaten the existence of all life in the solar system.
What follows is what X-Factor contestants would call “a journey” but turns out to be a modern day space odyssey – all existentialism with nice pictures.
And, in fairness, the pictures are breathtaking, whether it be floating in space or tackling the moon or martian lanscape.
There’s no sign of light here, but depressing never looked so good.
With lots of Pitt close ups there’s no hiding place and the star does carry the proceedings with a gravitas warranted by the storyline’s lofty aspirations, but I’ve always felt he thrives in roles showing light and shade (with a leaning definitely to the former – as witnessed in his latest work with Tarrantino).
However, even with the usual faultless performance from Tommy Lee, this effort at a weighty tome turns out to be as weightless as Major Tom singing that planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing he can do.