From his first announcements, James Gray was very clear about the ambitions ofAd Astra. Describing his film as a sort of hybrid of 2001, the Space Odyssey, Metropolis, Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now, the filmmaker did not lie about his intentions. At the screening, it is the latter who seems to have most influenced the director of Two Lovers (next to Solaris especially with the theme of loneliness).
The masterpiece of Coppola was already felt in The Lost City of Z, jungle requires. Here, the mythical feature film on the Vietnam War largely inspired by the Heart of Darkness of Joseph Conrad oozes through all the pores of the space adventure. Roy McBride (impressing Brad Pitt) is a Willard (or Marlow) astronaut version, whose rise of the Nung River turns into an intergalactic odyssey at the heart of the solar system.
Cities crossed by Willard's crew are transformed into planets or satellites. Hostile Viet-Congs as madmen or pirates of space, offering one of the wildest chase sequences in the history of cinema (lunar). Finally, Colonel Kurtz and his "unhealthy" methods become a lost father (Tommy Lee Jones) and the appearance of an unknown cosmic ray whose power represents a mortal danger to humanity.
Tommy Lee Jones impeccable
This missing father is obviously that of Roy McBride, the hero of the film. The way for James Gray to plunge the viewer into a new study of relations between father and son, a theme that punctuates the filmography of the American. Except that here, science fiction requires, the reflection is more metaphysical and therefore experimental.
This is probably where Ad Astra will strongly divide his audience, especially given the way the film is promoted in its trailers. Yes the film is obviously not devoid of sublime action sequences and that it offers several moments of great tension (rabid baboons, enraged pursuits, vertiginous opening, there is something for all tastes), that is not his goal.
A Mad Max sequence of awesome space
Ad Astra with all the crazy ambition that characterizes him prefers to focus on the intimate quest of a depressed and lost main character. Whether it's his tortured relationship with his father, who has been missing for over 16 years, his love life destroyed by the demons that gnaw at him, or finally a loneliness intensified by an oppressive silence, Roy McBride seeks existential answers, wants to enlighten one's life and consequently that of Man. Do these answers find them at the confines of the universe or simply at home?
Reflections on his own existence that Roy McBride narrates in voice over throughout the footage, a process that is very reminiscent of Tree of Life, feeling reinforced by the voice of Brad Pitt. The narrative then juggles almost no transition between flashbacks and real time, sometimes giving the editing a feeling of unfathomable. A choice that will lose a large slice of spectators whose patience will have limits before this SF road trip finally more cerebral than spectacular, Ad Astra clearly posing as the least accessible work of the filmmaker.
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This enigmatic montage (especially in its beginnings) is probably the only thing that can be criticized for the work of Gray on the form as it sometimes crushes the narrative construction of the footage. The only thing in any case, because if the feature film is particularly ambitious on the bottom, it is even more technically speaking. The staging of James Gray is still inspired and beyond, the plastic beauty of Ad Astra is breathtaking.
Thus, the footage owes a lot to the photography of Hoyte Van Hoytema (already behind Interstellar), Dazzling at every moment. The reconstruction of the red planet is extremely bluffing and frighteningly precise. With the help of Production Designer Kevin Thompson (Birdman), he breathes life into a world of abundant wealth from a Moon transformed into a commercial zone, to vast areas of war, without forgetting Mars, domesticated by man or an astonishing terrestrial spatial structure.
One of the greatest achievements will obviously be the quality of the special effects. With a large budget (about $ 90 million), Ad Astra had largely the means of its ambitions and the result is more than the height. The bluish rings of Neptune are, without a doubt, what remains the most in memory at the end of the projection. Like the film, they hypnotize us, absorbing us in this quest for the elusive that seems never to end.