Story: Roy is a second generation astronaut. Roy is very driven. Roy is a jerk. When Roy finds out that his father Clifford – presumed dead from an accident in space – may actually be alive, a classified mission is put together. Why? Becuase Cliff may have gone off his nut and could be trying to destroy our world. Suit up, Roy.
Genre I’d put it in: Cosmic Mind Trips
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Original, but you’ll feel homages to classic sci-fi space stories.
Gotta say: If Kubrick and Malick had a baby, then let von Trier and Cuarón raise it, you’d get Astra. This trippy, mind-bending tale focuses on deep space, but it’s the look at how individuals find their place in the world (er, universe) that’ll keep you glued to the screen. Writer/director James Gray (We Own the Night, The Immigrant) loves complicated interpersonal dynamics, and with Astra there’s a lot on offer. Rob and Clifford. Rob and his ex-wife Eve (played by a criminally underused Liv Tyler). Rob and just about everyone he comes into contact with. That Astra is more about the journey Rob takes and how that changes him becomes apparent pretty early on, but Pitt’s compelling performance drives the story onward.
Gray’s ability to create a believable dystopic near future gives added interest. Here, we’ve gone to the moon so often it’s tantamount to hopping on a transcontinental plane, and we’ve brought all of our baggage to the satellite. Bright neon signs calling out chain restaurants make the moon feel like just another giant mall, but just outside those walls are pirates/cowboys warring for a piece of this new landscape. We may have conquered the moon, but warlike tendencies? Not so much.
As Roy gets closer and closer to where his father was last stationed, there’s plenty of time for introspection. Roy has lots of time to think about things, and his psyche threatens to break as he fears his fathers has. Here’s where we get flashbacks to Roy’s life, stylized in an Arrival-esque way with quick cuts and brief glimpses. Poor Liv Tyler gets less screen time than in LoTR, and very little dialogue. It’s a pity she’s nothing more than a grown-up Grace Stamper from Armageddon, trying to figure out what will happen when he comes back home. (Ruth Negga gets more lines but less overall screen time, which is just as heartbreaking.) When things do wrap up, we get similar flashback/forward glimpses of what could be/will be/did happen, but it’s jumbled. I’m not sure if I like that jumble for letting me pick and choose where their story will end up, or if I’d rather have something a bit more coherent. I’ll be firmly in the middle for now.
See this one for the beautiful visuals and the fascinating future-mythology. And, of course, Pitt’s raw, honest performance which is sure to gather up a slew of award nods this season. Just ignore that it’s a total sausagefest, and you’ll be as hooked on this story as I was.
#Protip: Ad Astra means “to the stars”. Latin, don’cha know. Now you’re all set for next week’s pub quiz.