Ad Astra [2019] ★★★½

This is the science-fiction movie we’ve all been waiting for this year. “Ad Astra”, written and directed by James Gray and starring Brad Pitt in one of the best performances of his career, is a knockout from start to finish. Last year, Damien Chazelle’s underappreciated “First Man” celebrated an intimate bond between Neil Armstrong and his daughter. In “Ad Astra”, it’s the bond between father and son that gives Pitt’s Roy McBride a reason to travel to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), who disappeared many years ago on a classified mission. We learn right from the start that a recent signal suggests that he might still be very much alive. How could it be? That’s the hook that will lead you into this mesmerizing space adventure, a visually stunning film that needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. Pitt carries the emotional weight of the film as a broken man who finds refuge in his work. His feelings are beautifully expressed in outstanding sequences that rank among the best things you’ll see onscreen this year. And like the best science-fiction movies ever created, “Ad Astra” asks the viewer to take a leap of faith, and then offers constant surprises, turning from drama to action to a journey of self-discovery in the blink of an eye. What Gray and his master cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (who also shot Nolan’s “Interstellar”) have achieved is simply extraordinary. Gray’s masterful direction and Hoytema’s poet eye have created a world you want to get lost in. And by the end, “Ad Astra” leaves you with a sense of awe and wonder. Great movies will do that to you.

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