Tom Harper’s epic film is a mixed bag of elegance and emptiness
Following his well-received Wild Rose, Tom Harper goes for a more epic adventure in THE AERONAUTS. Technically elegant but narratively flawed, this is an entertaining picture that delivers some thrills but never amounts to a true knockout.
London, 1862. At a balloon launch site, meteorologist James Glaisher (an underused Eddie Redmayne) anxiously waits for pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones). Together, they will embark on what they hope would be an altitude-breaker and a key journey to help predict weather conditions at a time when meteorology was not seriously regarded. As the duo get higher, weather conditions get more and more severe, turning their journey into a life-threatening, uncalculated risk that could very well be their last.
As Wren, Jones delivers a winning performance as a women who is looking for healing, redemption and hope from an incredibly risky journey. She balances Wren’s vulnerability and steely determination perfectly well and provides the film’s key narrative hook, albeit a faint one. Redmayne, however, plays second fiddle to Jones, delivering a fine performance as an ambitious scientist who has weathered criticism from the community at large and yet retained his love for adventure and his strong belief in the vitality of weather predictive techniques. But this is Jones’ story – and the narrative lends her more room for development.
While the film dazzles in a few air sequences, the overall impact is bogged down by a fairly conventional story that fails to truly hook. It is not an issue of execution as much as it’s in the film’s low stakes. Despite a few sequences in which the duo struggle to stay alive amidst a series of unexpected mishaps, the film stills feels predictable and somewhat safe.
Exquisitely shot with stunningly beautiful and haunting cinematography that lends the film some scope and atmosphere, excellent costume design and aided by an adequate soundtrack used in the right places to heighten excitement and create a sense of escapism, the film is wonderful to look at – particularly the air scenes where clouds embrace the air balloon and the world beneath completely vanishes. Whenever the film stays in the air, it soars – but as it keeps going to flashbacks in the real world beneath, it doesn’t stick the landing.
The film’s flaws will not stop mainstream audiences from likely enjoying the ride. Entertaining and engaging, even if superficially, THE AERONAUTS features two charismatic actors convincingly playing their parts and a simple enough premise that will easily cross over to general audiences looking for quality entertainment. And the final third succeeds in creating some solid tension and sharp, dizzying moments of terror. But those looking for higher stakes, layered story or more depth throughout may end up underwhelmed.
Verdict: THE AERONAUTS is a well-crafted, low-stakes picture that delivers an engaging enough premise that may boost its commercial prospects but unlikely to be regarded as a groundbreaking nor truly memorable adventure. Safe, simplistic but beautiful to look at, it’s a visually striking, entertaining piece of work.