The Astronaut’s Wife


Astronaut's Wife, The (1999) Review 5
Director:Rand Ravich,
Starring:Charlize Theron, Johnny Depp, Joe Morton, Nick Cassavetes, Donna Murphy, Clea DuVall, Blair Brown
Length:109 minutes


When writing and directing a suspense thriller, as Rand Ravich was charged with doing with The Astronaut’s Wife, information is given to the audience like appetizers leading up to the main course. Small clues — hints, even — to the climax are dropped nonchalantly in the beginning, and as events transpire, the pieces of the puzzle become bigger and bigger, hopefully allowing the audience to “figure it out” no sooner than only a moment before the twist of a climax is revealed. This last revelation should be the movie’s most poignant moment. In The Astronaut’s Wife, however, writer/director Ravich approaches this formula in a lopsided manner, making the movie a withering miscarriage of a real thriller.

Essentially, Ravich has pushed everything to the back, so that the only tense moments in the movie come in the last half hour. Rather than steadily building through the running time, he plays with a lot of pseudo-drama for an hour or more before finally getting down to business. By then it’s too late.

The movie opens on Spencer (Johnny Depp) and Jillian Armacost (Charlize Theron) having one last intimate moment before shuttle astronaut Spencer goes into space the next day. They’re clearly a deeply devoted couple, and so when Spencer and fellow astronaut Alex Streck (Nick Cassavetes) experience a severe black-out in orbit and are immediately returned to Earth, Jillian is at Spencer’s side throughout the recovery.

Soon, though, both Jillian and Alex’s wife Natalie (Donna Murphy) find their husbands to be changed men. Jillian sticks it out, though, and eventually finds herself pregnant with twins. But a warning from a former NASA official (Joe Morton) gets her wondering: what happened during those two minutes, and are the lives inside of her really human?

The first of these two questions is never really answered, leaving, at best, an unsatisfied atmosphere about the resolution. And there’s never any doubt about the second question, because Johnny Depp gets to play a frightening and obsessive Spencer. His performance is a bit recycled, however; at times, Depp can be seen to be doing his best Kevin Bacon impression, and indeed, the role might have been better filled by Bacon himself. Theron, too, gives an unremarkable turn, and in fact, the movie only picks up speed when Joe Morton appears. Unfortunately Morton’s screen time is too limited for his work to be of any value.

When it finally begins to pick up speed, it’s much too late. The Astronaut’s Wife is just running through the motions then, desperately trying to regain ground it has hopelessly lost. At one point, director Ravich seems to realize this, as evidenced by the unusually quick wrap-up in the movie’s final scenes. In any case, the sequel-inspiring ending only confirms that everything here is nothing new.