starring Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones
written by James Gray & Ethan Gross
directed by James Gray
by Walter Chaw James Gray's Ad Astra is the sort of movie people who don't like Terrence Malick think Terrence Malick movies are like. It's overwritten to the point of self-parody in some places (consider a scene aboard a Mars-bound shuttle where our hero's patrilineage is mentioned, reacted to, discussed at length, and then brought up again), with a voiceover that doesn't invite introspection so much as comparisons to Harrison Ford's reluctant Blade Runner exposition. Imagine the version of this film with about a quarter of the lengthy chit-chat--or even one that doesn't mistrust its lead's performance so much that a scene where he's acting out his betrayal isn't underscored with narration: "Goddamnit, they're using me!" It's such a handsome film, with cinematography by Interstellar's Hoyte van Hoytema, that one is inclined to forgive this second consecutive attempt by Gray to make Apocalypse Now, except that it plays unforgivably like a "For Dummies" version of an ecstatic picture. Imagine the Carlos Reygadas version, or the Peter Strickland one (Ad Astra most resembles a super-chatty Berberian Sound Studio). Or just watch the Claire Denis version, High Life, which asks many of the same big questions as Ad Astra without asking them explicitly. Nor trying to answer them.