First Hit: Although Brad Pitt is excellent in this role, the expanse of the story, lack of substantive depth, and slow pacing left me unengaged.
The opening scene has Roy McBride (Pitt) is servicing an antenna that reaches from Earth deep into space. Then there’s a discussion about outposts on the moon and mars. These two items alone tell the audience that we’re way into the future.
Roy’s job outside on the spacecraft type antennae tower gets interrupted by a power surge from space, they believe near the planet Neptune, causing part of the antenna to collapse, killing someone, and sending Roy falling from space back to Earth. Entering the more massive atmosphere his parachute finally opens. However, the chute gets punctured from pieces of the collapsing antenna and McBride cashes to the ground.
A theme throughout the film is McBride’s mental and physical state. His heart rate never goes above 80 bpm, even during the fall, and his responses to the questions about his psychological state are monitored by a machine. Approval by the machine voice is required for him to continue his missions. We see him sit down with the computer multiple times. Because he’s the only one we see take these tests, I wondered if others had to take these tests as well.
After the antennae accident which proves his mental, physical, and mettle to solve problems and that he has real guts, he’s called into a meeting with senior NASA and government officials.
In this meeting, we learn that the government believes that the Lima Project, which was headed to Neptune and led by Roy’s father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), may be causing the power surges and destroying Earth. They also believe that the senior McBride is still alive although, in Roy’s mind, his father is dead.
They want Roy to help them locate his father or the ship they were using so that they can send another ship, near Neptune, and destroy what is sending the power surges back towards Earth. In other words they want to use Roy as bait to coax his father out of hiding, if he’s alive. Once that is done, they don’t want Roy to actually go out and retrieve his father.
This is the premise of the story: Will Roy find his father alive? Is Clifford creating the power surges? Will Roy and his father make amends for all of the senior McBride’s absence in Roy’s life? Will the team be able to stop the power surges that are threatening Earth’s existence?
Roy wants to be an integral part of the final mission to Neptune, but he’s not given a chance. He’s only used to create messages that are sent to the Neptune area and see if his father respondes. After finding that his father is alive, because he cannot join the final mission to Neptune, he steals aboard the ship to Neptune and to confront his ever-absent father.
The film has multiple events and circumstances that do not make sense. One such set of facts is while on the moon and being transported from one base to a rocket launch base, Roy and Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) are attacked by pirates in other moon rovers. My question is where did these pirates come from? Where did they live? And, why was this scene needed? It seemed like they needed some action in the middle of the film so this is what the story used.
Pitt was great. There’s an integrated quality he brings to the character that made me believe, he loved what he did and was able to do it expertly and dispassionately. Ruth Negga (as Helen Lantos) was excellent as someone who supports Pitt on his journey. Sutherland as Thomas Pruitt, a friend of Clifford McBride and Roy’s guardian during part of the trip, was okay, but I’m not sure the role was needed. Jones was engaging and entertaining in this role as someone who only cared about his mission and learning if there is life beyond our solar system. James Gray and Ethan Gross wrote, and script that languished while hoping the philosophical concepts the story proposes will make the story engaging. Unfortunately, it doesn’t entirely fill the bill. Gray also directed this film, and although it seems he borrowed heavily from some of the pictures presented in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it fell short of being as engaging.
Overall: This movie was entertaining enough to keep me present, but lacked enough depth to make me really want more.