Ad Astra early reviews: Is it time for Brad Pitt's first acting Oscar?

More than just a space movie, the upcoming film digs into father-son relationships.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
2 min read

In Ad Astra, Brad Pitt plays an astronaut searching the galaxy for his missing father. Director James Gray, better known for his independent film work, said at the Toronto Film Festival that he wanted to feature "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie."

Some viewers were able to decide that for themselves this week. Although the movie doesn't open widely until September, it had its world premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival, and early reviews praised it to infinity and beyond. Here are some excerpts from the critics' takes.

Pitt's best

"Pitt is on sensational form with the most mature, resonant performance of his career. Could it be time for his first acting Oscar?"  —James Mottram, GamesRadar+

Buckle up

"It's an extraordinary picture, steely and unbending and assembled with an unmistakable air of wild-eyed zealotry. Ad Astra, be warned, is going all the way -- and it double-dares us to buckle up for the trip." —Xan Brooks, The Guardian

Pitt shoulders the film

"Emotionally, the film operates in a classic Gray area, with barely perceptible eddies that build to a mighty existential wrench. All of which, it should be said, rests on Pitt's shoulders -- which feel like very different shoulders, somehow, to the ones that slouched so appealingly through Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. His performance here is as grippingly inward and tamped down as his work for Tarantino was witty and expansive -- it's true movie stardom, and it fills a star-system-sized canvas." —Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

Daddy dearest

"Pitt does a great job of smuggling a sense of boyish hurt under that carapace of coolness. The scars left by his father's absence are more vivid than he realizes and the final third of the movie is all the more moving for it." —Phil De Semlyen, TimeOut

Sadly realistic setting

"What sets it apart from recent gravity-defying films, however, is the setting. This is a future that feels recognizably familiar and deeply plausible, a world in which space travel has become commercialized, normalized, and blighted by the same overpriced pillows as the budget airline. The wonder of space has been replaced by the mundanities and conflicts of Earth; the moon is a gaudy tourist trap and disputed territory, not unlike an episode of Futurama." —John Nugent, Empire

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