SilentDawn’s review published on Letterboxd:
James Gray's affiliation with interiority is nothing new. The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z are both, in their own influences and ideas, magnificent visual manifestations of the lengths in which shutdown becomes a form of control. What is necessary to survive, to thrive, to reach transcendence, even at the disappointment of others. Ad Astra, Gray's first entry in mega-budget studio fare, offers that same journey of internal serenity clashing against external tensions. It's a film about space-travel and its corporate stronghold. Look at the Applebee's on the moon and the shining 'airport' terminal, all prepped for future expansion. It's also a film about government secrets, and the lies that aren't just for those closest to us, but for all of humanity. James Gray has taken his obsession of discovery and brought it to its natural endpoint, and it is a story of a father and a son, much like the final journey into the amazon in The Lost City of Z. It's beautiful and monumental and grand - something that is so far removed from the typical studio fare.
Still, it's clear James Gray didn't have final cut. And no matter the collaborative process between suits and the artist might've been, there is a similar tension in the film's action set-pieces and its poetic flourishes. The film's grasps at conventional thrills (that lunar chase is a WOW) often add an air of surreal disconnect when it decides to get on with what it really wants to say. The result is a work that was been clearly re-worked and re-configured, right down to Brad Pitt's voiceover that is both needlessly functional and not as well-employed as I could've hoped. So much of Ad Astra is Pitt (in a sturdy performance that I think is lesser than his role in OUATIH) staring off, contemplating the void inside and out. I felt similarly - this movie kept me always at a distance, admiring the view and appreciating its existence, but lost, adrift.