Reinventing the sci-fi genre

By Aaron Reynolds

The Surveyor

4.5 Out of 5 Stars

Brad Pitt first emerged in Hollywood as a handsome 28-year-old stud in “Thelma & Louise,” and was known largely for his good looks early in his career, despite candid performances in the likes of “A River Runs Through It” and “Legends of the Fall.”

Though Pitt has never shied away from dark, conflicting roles such as in “Seven” and “Fight Club,” he has generally been known first for his looks, and second for his acting chops. However, recently Pitt has surged in less flashy, minimalist roles as in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and the latest, “Ad Astra.”

Pitt has always been a guy who can chirp and look good doing it, whether in “12 Monkeys” or “Ocean’s 11,” yet they say it is not always what you say, but what you don’t. And often the best, most profound work from actors comes from scenes where they don’t say, but show. “Ad Astra” is a walking example of how to do it.

“Ad Astra” is a new science fiction adventure/drama that stars Pitt in the lead role as astronaut Roy McBride. McBride is destined to travel to the outer edges of the solar system in order to relocate his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones). It is during this journey McBride also begins to unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of the planet.

Writer and director James Gray (“Little Odessa,”  “The Lost City of Z”) has reportedly wanted to work with Pitt for decades now, and the feeling was mutual, to create “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie.” Gray has done just that with a visually-beautiful and deeply-connecting film.

“Ad Astra” is a sort of antithesis of modern-day superhero movies and other action films that rely largely on special effects and rapid-action sequences to carry on the entertainment. Some may find “Ad Astra” slow, nearly unbearably so, though it is common for a drama that largely focuses on character development.

The central focus of “Ad Astra” is McBride and his missing father. “Ad Astra” is unique in a sci-fi genre that usually centers on characters seemingly plucked from scratch with non-relatable qualities and instead makes the characters very humanistic. Pitt is fantastic as the lead, where he delivers another mesmerizing, Oscar-worthy performance that needs to finally designate Pitt as one of the best actors of the last couple of decades.

“Ad Astra” takes us on a physical quest through space, yet it is the journey of the human experience that is the real story behind the film. Audiences get personally connected with the deep bond between child and parent, loss and finding closure, loneliness and intimacy, as well as the meaning of life.

Science fiction may not be real, but in “Ad Astra” we find the genre can deal with the problems of mankind in a very tangible, unapologetic way. The best films are about the human condition, and therefore I consider “Ad Astra” among the finest to come out thus far in 2019.

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