Ground control to Major Brad.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Somewhere in the not too distant future is the world of commercial space travel, and somewhere on a planet further than Mars is the key to unlocking the secret to Brad Pitt’s long lost father. As astronaut Roy McBride, he avoids a near fatal accident onboard a space station during the course of his duties as mysterious power surges rattle the Earth’s solar system. Enlisted by the CIA of the known universe “SpaceComm”, he is tasked with sending a signal to his father who may still be out there and might just have something to do with the incident.

Director James Gray is no stranger to the quest to find conquer new frontiers as his most recent feature before this space opera, The Lost City of Z, explored. Instead of the Amazon and its legendary lost city, the new world is occupied by Virgin Atlantic sponsored jetliners and tensions over internationally disputed claimed territory on the Moon. Look past the blurred out sponsors and it’s almost a typical trip to the airport before a departure. After being indulged with familiar airline travel tropes that have been adjusted for the space age-in one instance a steward floats to the passengers for the drink service-we’re soon strapped back into reality that this is no standard mission. During a space chase where Roy crosses the sandy, crater-filled border to make a transfer from the moon to Mars, it almost resembles a Gulf War conflict (which is particularly timely, given the recent Saudi Arabia tensions). The culprits could even be the sand monsters from the planet Tatooine, but the nods to the world of Star Wars end there.

By the time the space shuttle crosses to the other side, the real intention of the mission is light years away from what Roy is led to believe. As the stardust about Roy’s father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) begins to settle, he faces the possibility that his pioneer Dad might be hiding secrets in Neptune that threaten the very stability of the Solar System itself. Roy is no space cowboy, but he becomes a lone ranger who experiences real isolation and alienation from the world as he delves deeper into the galaxy. Space is incredibly sparse, and even with an effective score by Max Richter often there’s nothing but the existentialist musings of Roy’s own mind. His daily psycho-therapeutic check-ins with home base serve as an exposition as he grapples between attempting to make up for lost time with a largely absent father, while dealing with the lessening likelihood that he will return to a relatively normal existence back on Earth. To be as well-travelled as this astronaut is a lonely endeavour, and the risk of sabotaging humanity for the sake of scientific pursuit is a moral grey area.

Archival footage and saved holographic voice memos are all Roy has to go off for any tangible fondness or memory of his father. Behind the sentimentality is the suggestion that his quest has descended into an Apocalyse Now madness that must be reeled in before further damage is done. There’s even a “don’t get off the boat scene” where a distress call is sent from a nearby spacecraft. It’s a horrifying mess with an ape, yet this scene is the homage to the passenger on the voyage having more finesse than the crew, yet being limited in how they can wield command. Avast, ye mutineers, for this sailor knows more than he humbly lets on.

Brad Pitt has uncovered an impressive feat in space, but the pace and length of time on the journey does not always equate to in-flight entertainment.

At the least the scenery outside of the window is pretty to admire.

Verdict: 7.5/10

20th Century Fox Australia

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