AD ASTRA – Review by Susan Granger

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Anyone ready for philosophical science-fiction?

Let’s start with the title. In Latin, “Ad Astra” means “to the stars,” but the entire phrase is “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” meaning “to the stars through hardships.”

Set in an unspecified future when interplanetary travel is common, the constant search for intelligent life in the outer reaches of the solar system continues.

Under top-secret orders from SpaceCom, cool, collected Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), whose pulse never exceeds 80 beats per minute, is dispatched to Neptune to find his astronaut father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), an American hero thought to have died many years ago, but now suspected to be behind power surges that endanger Earth.

“Like I have a choice,” Roy dutifully mutters. “We go to work. We do our jobs. Then it’s over.” Which may explain Roy’s long estrangement from his wife Eve (Liv Tyler).

And so his epic journey into the galaxy begins – from Earth to the Moon, onto Mars, then Neptune, accompanied by his father’s now-retired colleague Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) on the ill-fated Lima Project.

Over-colonized, Moon-dwellers battle urban congestion and pirates abound, smashing their moon rovers into unsuspecting astronauts. Then it’s onto Mars, where Roy’s stoic persistence is questioned by Helen Lantros (Ruth Negga), who teaches him about the value of connectivity in the moment.

Writer/director James Gray (“The Lost City of Z”), collaborating with co-screenwriter Ethan Gross and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Dunkirk”), explores the elusive father/son dynamic, veering from abandonment to longing, from fear to love, following a tight three-act structure with cerebral restraint and grace.

“We wanted to investigate the inability to connect with others, and the self-protection mechanisms one builds up that keep us from really being open,” Pitt says, explaining the existential loneliness of Roy McBride.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ad Astra” is an exquisite 8, boldly challenging the tone and rhythm of outer-space exploration.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.