We need more from Pitt in ‘Ad Astra’

From “Twelve Monkeys” to “Inglorious Basterds” to this summer’s “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood,” Brad Pitt fully inhabits his characters and demonstrates tremendous range.

Often, he lets his expressions do a lot of the work. In “Ad Astra,” writer/director James Gray does not ask Pitt to do much of that; it’s a bit of a letdown in an otherwise impressive film.

Pitt plays astronaut Roy McBride in the near future. He is a well-traveled sailor of the stars, a major in Spacecom.

When word arises that his father, treasured astronaut H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), may not have perished on a voyage to the edge of the solar system, Roy is sent on a clandestine mission to make contact. The elder McBride left decades earlier to get far enough away from the sun so that his search for extra-solar life would return extremely accurate results.

“Ad Astra” is as much about scientific investigation as it is about internal exploration. Traveling so many billions of miles from home would certainly cause one to do a lot of self-reflecting. What kind of life is out there? What kind of legacy am I leaving?

Roy’s journey hits the many bumps seemingly inherent in space travel. Pitt delivers a subdued internal monologue along the way. Occasionally, these narrations slow the film down a little and Roy’s words sometimes do not add anything to what we already notice.

The closer he gets to his father, the more he wonders if he is the same kind of man. We do not see a lot of Jones save for some videos. We only know that he’s a revered hero on Earth but had a conflicted relationship with his son.

The visuals, though mostly computer generated, are incredible. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema proved with “Interstellar” that he is more than capable of creating the beauty of outer space. Rover races on the dark side of the moon and spacewalks in Neptune’s orbit are stunningly real.

All in all, Pitt’s performance is fine. There is nothing to complain about, but nothing to really champion either. Gray (“The Lost City of Z”) writes Roy as almost superhuman – his heart rate does not even rise above 80 when he falls off a 100-mile high antenna.

Roy is well-suited to his job; he doesn’t panics and always knows what to do. Therein are the limitations to Pitt’s performance. He never raises his voice and hardly cracks a smile. The film is definitely not boring, but it could have used a more emotive performance from Pitt. Score: B

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord. Email comments to editor@pioneerpublishers.com.