The Aeronauts


Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon…

(2019) Adventure (AmazonFelicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Tom Courtenay, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox, Lewin Lloyd, Vincent Perez, Tim McInnerny, Rebecca Front, Anne Reid, Robert Glenister, Julian Ferro, Gian Kalch, Mia Hemmerling, Kamil Lemieszewski, Thomas Arnold, Steve Saunders, John Taylor, James Daniel Wilson, Guy Samuels, Fran Targ, Zander James, Elsa Alili. Directed by Tom Harper

 

We sometimes envy the birds, soaring free above the bounds of the ground, winging their way on the currents of the atmosphere, seeing our planet from a perspective we could never really understand. We have sought to control the air, learning to fly with balloons before eventually creating the airplane and consequently shrinking our planet.

In 1862 that was far away. While balloonists regularly performed exhibitions, aeronauts (as they were referred to as back then) were not taken too seriously as much more than performers. James Glaisher (Redmayne), who believed that studying the upper atmosphere would allow us to better understand weather patterns and eventually allow us to predict the weather, wants to go up higher than any other balloonist ever has. The Royal Science Academy basically thinks he’s cracked but he does find a taker in Amy Wren (Jones).

Wren is about as unconventional as a woman could get in the Victorian era. She makes grand entrances riding on the top of carriages, stuns her onlookers by throwing her beloved Jack Russell terrier out of the balloon (don’t worry folks – the pup has a parachute) and is apt to do cartwheels on the stage. Glaisher finds all of this distasteful and distracting from the scientific endeavor he is undertaking, but he needs a pilot and Wren is, like it or not, his bird.

Once they get airborne, they realize that their task is going to be much more difficult than they first thought, particularly since they manage to soar right into a thunderstorm. They have already overcome much adversity to begin with – Amy dealing with the awful death of her husband, Glaisher with the deteriorating mental state of his father and the ridicule of his peers. If they can learn to rely on each other they might just figure out that they have the skills to survive.

This is (very) loosely based on real events – not a single ascent, but rather several ascents. However, a great deal of liberty has been taken with history, although that’s nothing new for the movies. While I love Felicity Jones as an actress, her character is extremely improbable for the times she lives in. On the way to the record-breaking ascent, she orders the carriage to stop and gets out, plopping her butt down on the curb with ankles and calves on full display – and nobody pays attention. In 1862, the sight of a woman’s calf would have been scandalous. Felicity accentuates the girl’s spunk, but she certainly doesn’t seem a product of her times which I suppose fits right in with modern narratives.

Redmayne, who the last time he was paired with Jones won an Oscar, is curiously restrained here. I realize he’s supposed to be a stuffy scientist but he’s almost inert. Given his usual on-screen charm, it’s almost shocking how leaden his performance is here. This is not the Eddie Redmayne that we usually get to see. I suppose everyone is entitled to an off-film.

The action sequences are for the most part well-staged and Jones holds her own as an action hero, just as she did in Rogue One. This is the kind of adventure movie that went out of vogue with the advent of the anti-hero 70s, and has never really come back. However, before you classic movie fans begin to celebrate, this isn’t nearly as good as some of the films you remember. However, this is a solid piece of entertainment that while it doesn’t hold a candle to such films as The African Queen, for example, it nonetheless should hold even a casual movie fan’s interest.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the sequences are marvelously staged.
REASONS TO AVOID: Nonsensical and anachronistic.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some sequences of extreme peril as well as some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although James Glaisher was a real person who was a pioneer in meteorology, Amelia Wren is a fictional character albeit one based on actual women. Glaisher did indeed set a record for highest ascent in a balloon in 1862 but his partner, Henry Coxwell, was decidedly male.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/24/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews: Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Around the World in 80 Days
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
22-July

Pick of the Litter – December 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, John Boyega.  The saga of Star Wars comes to a final conclusion after 42 years following 12 movies along with untold animated episodes, television specials, novels and comic books. Director J.J. Abrams returns to the big chair to bring this all to a conclusion but fear not fans: a new trilogy will begin on December 16, 2022! December 20

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR:

Jumanji: The Next Level, December 13
Richard Jewell, December 13
Bombshell, December 20
Cats, December 20
1917, December 25
Little Women, December 25
Spies in Disguise, December 25

INDEPENDENT PICKS

A Million Little Pieces

(Momentum) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Odessa Young, Giovanni Ribisi. A young writer, having hit rock bottom with his alcohol and drug addictions, checks into rehab. Based on the memoirs of James Frey (which he later admitted were largely fictitious), this is the account of a man who resigned to death, found hope instead. December 6

The Aeronauts

(Amazon) Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox. An intrepid balloonist and a pioneer meteorologist ascend in a hot-air balloon to do weather research, but the ascent turns into a fight for survivor as they climb to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. December 6

In Fabric

(A24) Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill. Who would have thought that the scariest movie of 2019 might just be this English film about a cursed dress? Check the trailer out…but not while you’re alone at night. December 6

Marriage Story

(Netflix) Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda.  After a brief theatrical run, this Noah Baumbach film hits the streaming giant. Already creating a good deal of Oscar buzz, this movie chronicles the end of a marriage and the beginning of life. December 6

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

(NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adéle Haenel, Luána Bajrami, Valeria Golino. A young female painter gets a commission to paint the portrait of a prospective bride on a remote island in Brittany. The girl is terrified of her potential marriage and doesn’t want the painting to be completed, so the painter must work in secret, posing as a companion, a companionship that soon becomes genuine…and romantic. December 6

A Hidden Life

(Fox Searchlight) August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Matthias Schoenaerts. The story of Franz Jägerstatter, an Austrian who refused to fight for the Nazis during the Second World War – and what his refusal cost him. December 13

Rabid

(SHOUT!) Laura Vandervoort, Ted Atherton, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie. A young woman, horribly disfigured in a terrible accident, undergoes a radical untested stem cell treatment. As it turns out, the treatment seems to have been successful but there are unforeseen side effects. December 13

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Anthony Mackie. Actress Jean Seberg became a star of the French New Wave. Her support for civil rights activism brought the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. upon her and they set out to destroy her career and life. December 13

The Two Popes

The Two Popes

(Netflix) Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin, Sidney Cole. Pope Benedict, a staunch conservative, is the leader of a Catholic church in crisis. He soon develops a relationship with the cardinal who would one day become Pope Francis, one who has sought to reform the Church. This is the latest from acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles, Oscar-nominated for City of God. December 20

The Song of Names

(Sony Classics) Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Jonah Hauer-King, Catherine McCormack. A Polish boy of Jewish faith is adopted by an English family and becomes an amazing violin player. On the eve of his international concert debut, he disappears. His adopted brother spends the rest of his life trying to find him. December 25