MOST of Ad Astra is set in the vastness of deep space but it is actually one of the most intimate films this year.

The stakes could not be higher in director James Gray's near future story about a mission to save the universe.

But Ad Astra – from the Latin phrase 'per aspera ad astra' meaning 'through hardships to the stars' – is really about the bond between a father and son.

In an exceptional lead performance, Brad Pitt plays astronaut Roy McBride who is called upon to try and make contact with his missing father who was long presumed dead.

The backstory is that decorated astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led a doomed expedition to try and find intelligent life in the universe and has not been heard from in decades. But as Earth is hit with a series of electrical surges emanating from outer space, the top brass are troubled to find the source can be traced to Clifford's station at Neptune.

Roy is a lost soul who followed in his absent father's footsteps and is similarly devoted to the exploration of space to the detriment of other aspects of his life. Other aspects such as his struggling relationship with his wife Eve (Liv Tyler) who has so become so sidelined that she appears out of focus in some powerful scenes.

Roy sees it as his duty to find his dad but after a long introspective journey to Neptune, the mission becomes much more personal for him.

As awe-inspiring as it is deeply moving, Ad Astra is a soulful mediation on human nature, family and, in fact, even what it means to be an 'Earthling'.

Pitt is in almost every scene and his magnetic presence is part of what makes the film – with his character finding himself...while lost in deep space.

There is also an exploration of our destructive side as humans with an environmental message weaved in alongside the main plot.

This ties into Gray's alarming vision of the colonisation of the Moon where a battle for resources rages where national borders do not exist.

Complemented by a stirring soundtrack composed by Max Richter and cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, who worked on Interstellar, Ad Astra is stunning but a slow burn where an arthouse aesthetic meets blockbuster visuals.

Go in and prepare to be fully immersed because it rewards patience and has a truly haunting quality that will linger long after the credits.

RATING: 9/10