Brad Pitt bagged a well-deserved Oscar for Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, but his other movie, the meditative, even profound AD ASTRA, in which he plays a stoic but tormented explorer, may be the performance he should have been noted for. It’s a paranoid thriller in space that follows Roy McBride (Pitt) on a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.
AD ASTRA, Latin for “Through hardship to the stars,” had a long gestation period, not unusual for a James Gray project but when, in 2016, Brad Pitt agreed to both star and produce, things moved quickly. Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment has been responsible for producing numerous award-winning and hit films including The Departed, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Tree of Life, World War Z, 12 Years a Slave, The Normal Heart, Selma, and 2017’s Academy Award®-winning Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins.
There were many things that attracted Pitt to the project, including the Director, James Gray. “I’ve always loved James’ filmmaking,” he says. “It comes from a deep knowledge of the history of film. There’s always a classic element to his storytelling, very elegant, and really, really points towards the greats…(AD ASTRA) is a film I think that has its roots in ‘70’s films, as James’ vernacular seems to be born from. Meaning that it’s contemplative. It unfolds. And we have big moments of action and spectacle that on the big screen is pretty jaw-dropping.”
“Our first conversations were about what is connection, especially for a man,” he continues, “and what if we’re dealing with a human being where connecting with others is not necessarily in his skillset. He’s quite capable, you know, on a tower and in outer space when it gets dangerous. But when it becomes intimate, he’s challenged.”
“We see Roy at this point in his life where this is no longer working for him, and he’s becoming aware of it. And that is set against finding out that his father may still be alive. And so for James and I, it was really a discussion of vulnerability. What is vulnerability? What is strength in a man? Where does strength really come from? And out conclusion, what we were striving for, is that our strength comes from actually being vulnerable.”
Pitt explains, “True confidence comes from we as individuals being able to acknowledge our foibles, our shortcomings, our insecurities, and instead of hiding or trying to cover that to actually be very open. And I’ve certainly found that in life that a great peace and I will say, strength, comes from that very thing, which is antithetical to certainly how my Dad would’ve grown up.”
To portray Roy’s revered, enigmatic father, Clifford, the filmmakers cast Academy Award®-winner Tommy Lee Jones. Pitt says, “Tommy Lee Jones was perfect to play Clifford because of his weight, his gravitas. He’s known for being highly intelligent, highly capable, and it just fit. It’s seering. He’s a master. Absolute master. He leaves an indelible mark on a film.” Another one of the screen’s most respected and admired veteran actors, Donald Sutherland, portrays Col. Pruitt. Pitt says, “It was a real pleasure for me to be able to work with the great Donald Sutherland. He’s been a part of so many of my favorite films. And so to be able to have this experience, this exchange, was pretty monumental for me. He’s incredibly giving.”
AD ASTRA is now available on streaming platforms and Blu-Ray.
— Kelly Fine.