When Brad Pitt is on a panel with NASA officials, he’s the one with the questions.
“If we were going to make a trip to Mars, we would have to take off from the moon, because of the lack of gravity?” he hesitantly asked spacesuit engineer Lindsay Aitchison Monday afternoon, as part of a Washington Post Live event centered on Pitt’s latest film, “Ad Astra.” Joining them were the writer-director, James Gray; lunar scientist Sarah Noble; and panel moderator Ann Hornaday, chief film critic at The Post.
Aitchison’s affirmative response (“It’s helpful”), coupled with a distilled scientific explanation, was characteristic of much of her and Noble’s responses to Pitt’s earnest questions. He was soon outdone by an inquisitive Gray, who explained his granular knowledge of Neil Armstrong’s talk-show appearances by joking, “I don’t get out much.”
Gray’s commitment to portraying space with accuracy over allure is obvious throughout “Ad Astra.” The sci-fi thriller, set for a Friday release, takes place in the near future and centers on Maj. Roy McBride (Pitt), a skilled but emotionally worn astronaut recruited to determine and shut down the source of unbridled energy causing destructive power surges throughout the solar system. The source is believed to be near Neptune, which also happens to be the last known location of the Lima Project, a decades-old effort to discover extraterrestrial life commandeered by Roy’s father (Tommy Lee Jones).
Roy had long presumed his father to be dead, and the revelation that he might not be — and that the Lima Project might be causing the surges — leads Roy to embark on two journeys: the literal one to Neptune, and an equally harrowing exploration of solitude.