⚪ATTENTION THIS WRITTEN CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE CONTAINS SPOILERS⚪
⚫Please read at your discretion, this is not a review, simply a first impression of a film⚫
🌟Stay til the end.🌟
James Gray always includes a final sound bite that encaptulates his films and this one was worth the wait, coming from one that admires his films and provides the patience it deserves.
It's hard to reintegrate into reality after seeing Ad Astra. Even now as I write this in a ramen bar ordering food to eat at home in my own seclusion of pensive pondering I am elated, overwhelmed and completely satisfied, for this film was worth the long wait I have been enduring since the closing credits of The Lost City of Z. Attentively awaiting one of my favourite filmmakers to emerge from his own captivity to finally present his next feature.
I saw him at the beginning of the year during TIFF's retrospective of his filmwork and luckily had an opportunity to chat with him in person, and ask a question during his in conversation with panel. When discussing Ad Astra he was deep in the editing process and he was exhausted. It had been a long haul, getting the final touches on all of the digital effects was taking time that differed from his previous films. This was January 2019, it was originally scheduled to be released in April/May, but pushed to mid September. Patience is everything, and Ad Astra is worth it all.
Ad Astra is visual poetry.
It is imaginative and serene.
It is beautiful beyond belief, absolutely gorgeous in it's presentation, words cease to have meaning in how shots simply take your breath away.
James Gray talked about how he discovers the films he wants to make through a feeling. For Two Lovers it was a somber man walking alone on a beach. For Ad Astra, it was the feeling of floating in space. The cinematic version of this feeling is to take the viewer on an experience that stretches the boundaries of human resilience, will and determination. To understand the feeling of floating in space is to question why anyone would want to seek such an experience, and travel past their own limits to understand the life long question, are we alone in the universe?
James Gray's films are pensive, thought provoking and literal examinations of the human condition, the ties that bind his characters to both mythology and destiny. One continuing theme is that of the sons of their fathers, how far they try to run from their parentage, but ultimately become them in some degrees. It is in that struggle to want to become something you admire, that furthers your ambition to succeed to do so. The driving force that allows us to be our best is the same blood that runs in our veins. We are determined to be like them in order to understand them, but yet still come across so far.
Brad Pitt's Major Roy McBride aspired to be like his astronaut father, to mission and serve with the same strength and will of heroism as he believed him to be. No matter how distant his presence had become. This is shown in Roy's aptitude of perseverance, cunning and resourcefulness. Throughout the film he is faced with finite challenges that demand the utmost precision, timing and force of action, literal moments of life and death. McBride's opening mission of aiding a space antenna, and falling to impending doom when hit with an energetic surge is reminiscent of Tom Cruise's HALO jump in Fallout last year, but amped to a greater height, turbulence and danger factor. Brad Pitt's McBride, showcases patience in maneuvering through casualty. His heart rate controlled, grasp managed and prepared through all outcome to ensure safe return and arrival to ground zero. The first of many instances of problem solving, action and keeping calm, cool and collective. He is trained to be precise. His job is life or death at any given moment. Every moment counts.
Gray allows this patience with his film to digest not only the visual scope (seeing it in IMAX makes a world of difference to the overall experience) but the acceptance of the reality of the "Near Future" he has brought us to. The world has advanced but not much has changed. We have colonized the Moon and Mars but we are still fighting for resources in extremities. Humanity has taken their worst traits and populated other planets for it's own pleasure. Space travel had become customized airline flights, time and service is substantially convenient and luxurious. But the focus is on the mission. Retrieve a connection to the father thought deceased for thirty years, stop the impending doom of a seismic force, energetic surges from the distance of Neptune caused from the ship that had gone offline many years ago.
Roy's mission is one of emotional deliverance and personal sacrifice. He is trained all his life to do the impossible, including a reconnection to an absent father. Gray takes us through the beautiful eyes of Brad Pitt, the innocence, the age, and the fatigue of a man who has seen it all. A harrowing point of view shared by an actor that has aged like a delicate wine, still withholding of all the finesse and purity that shot him into stardom, his resilience, and his ability to highlight adept range through subtlety, presence and care of the actor's craft. He is in full swing, a role that defines his own struggles, loss, balance and sacrifice to be the best in his class. His entire career is shed through his eyes, his beats mastered with the precision needed to play a man of masterful control of his craft. From humor to heart break, his range is vast as the stars he sees, the performance he brings to the silence of a look is incomparable, for each second, emotion and story is read through his face. One that has given us years of service, through that wry cackle and smile, but there is a deep fragility in Roy McBride. James Gray was able to pull out such nuanced performances from his leading actors, through stories that help define their skills and abilities to carry a narrative arc and give it a degree of explosive force that is both mesmerizing, and awe inspiring, that it can be discussed and explored for multiple viewings and years after it's release. This may as well be the film to give Brad his Oscar, even if he isn't campaigning to receive one, his work is masterful and he leaves it on the screen with his viewers.
He is accompanied by a wonderful cast that each serve the story, accenting motivators to propel him towards his goal, a climax to the hardest challenge to face, his father. Tommy Lee Jones gives a performance of utmost delicacy, his minimal screen time simply showcases his ability to provide all that is necessary through few scenes, with enough care and support to leverage Brad's longing and struggles, an encounter 16 years in the making expressed in a scene with such grace and attention it holds the entire emotional weight of Roy's journey in it's balance and pedigree. To travel 2.7 billion miles to see the father you have missed for the last two decades is an undertaking this son endures for the love still in his heart. A journey into the heart of darkness to find a piece of yourself.
Ad Astra is poetry of the highest cinematic order that demands patience and perseverance. It captures the isolation and solitary nature of space, our desire to venture to the farthest reaches of our galaxy, simply to miss everything we had back home. It is made with care and respect to art of filmmaking. James Gray has made a picture that will stand the test of time, like that of Apocalypse Now and 2001 Space Odyssey, it exists outside of its contemporaries because it is remotely unique and challenging in it's own merit, it rivals none because it is simply what it is, absolutely beautiful.