(US/China - 2019)
Directed by James Gray. Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross. Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, John Ortiz, Liv Tyler, Kimberly Elise, Loren Dean, Greg Bryk, Donnie Keshawarz, Bobby Nish, Natasha Lyonne, LisaGay Hamilton, Sean Blakemore, John Finn, Freda Foh Shen, Ravi Kapoor. (PG-13, 123 mins)
Writer/director James Gray has spent too much of his career--dating back to 1994's LITTLE ODESSA--paying and repaying his dues. Starting out as a gifted NYC filmmaker of the Sidney Lumet sort whose style and subjects would've made him an influential auteur in the '70s instead of someone with a devoted cult following today, Gray hit a wall when he stood his ground against a meddling Harvey Weinstein over 2000's THE YARDS. Weinstein, at the peak of his powers as a Hollywood mover and shaker, retaliated by shelving the film for two years and then barely releasing it despite critical acclaim. Gray resurfaced with 2007's underrated cop thriller WE OWN THE NIGHT but again saw his momentum stalled when 2009's TWO LOVERS fell victim to star Joaquin Phoenix's faux-public meltdown with his fake documentary I'M STILL HERE. Gray's next film, the wonderful period piece THE IMMIGRANT, was acquired by Weinstein and, in one of the most flagrant acts of petty, prickish score-settling in recent Hollywood history, was promptly shelved for a year before being unceremoniously dumped on Netflix with no fanfare in 2014, as Weinstein opted to bury what would've been certain Oscar bait just to get back at a director who didn't cave to his bullying tactics 15 years earlier. 2017's THE LOST CITY OF Z was Gray's most ambitious project up to that time, and while it wasn't a big hit, he had the support of executive producer Brad Pitt and for the first time in a long time, didn't have to deal with any extraneous bullshit.
shot of a backlit Pitt running that's straight out of Michael Mann's THE KEEP, so bravo to whomever was responsible for that). Pitt, who's in virtually every scene, is excellent, though his performance grows more internalized as the film goes on, with Gray relying far too much on Roy's voiceover narration, which would be intentional as part of the APOCALYPSE NOW vibe of the far superior first half, but also seems like it's scrambling to clarify plot points like the original theatrical cut of BLADE RUNNER. Other than Pitt, everyone's screen time is limited, with Liv Tyler being particularly squandered as Roy's estranged wife and Jones' Clifford not really living up to the Kurtz-esque build-up the film provides him, though Gray makes his fleeting appearances count in the form of the always-unsettling garbled audio and distorted video transmissions. Wait...so add EVENT HORIZON and SUNSHINE to AD ASTRA's crib sheet.