His last film, “The Lost City of Z,” journeyed into the Amazon, circa early 20th century. His latest, “Ad Astra,” skitters across the solar system like a stone skipped through space.
Both films aren’t merely changes in setting. They’re inherently about leaving home — the sacrifice entailed, the wonders to be discovered, the cost of obsessions that require pursuit. It’s fitting that they follow Gray’s masterpiece, “The Immigrant,” a profound and melancholic tale of passage. Whether orbiting New York or Neptune, Gray has been on the move for some time.
“Ad Astra,” starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut in the near future, is easily the most expensive production yet for Gray (“We Own the Night,” “Two Lovers”). Its timing is fortuitous. Coming on the heels of Pitt’s radiant performance in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” “Ad Astra” seems almost like an encore amid all the (deserved) celebration of its lead performer, a singular star in a movie universe with few that can match his luster.
But “Ad Astra,” more intimate than it is majestic, is much more than a rocket-fueled vehicle for its star. It’s a ruminative, mythical space adventure propelled by father-son issues of cosmic proportions. Pitt’s Roy McBride is ordered to the far reaches of the solar system to make contact with his previously presumed dead father, a legendary space explorer named H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).
He’s feared to have gone mad and is suspected of having something to do with power surges playing havoc with Earth’s electronics. In the film’s staggering first moments, McBride is working on a miles-high antenna, like Jack on a beanstalk to the sky, when a surge sweeps over it. Explosions follow and McBride plummets through the stratosphere.
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