⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Stars: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel
Writer/Director: Tom Harper
Flamboyantly cinematic, epic on a scale as vast as the sky itself, director Tom Harper’s airborne yarn about a history-making 1862 balloon flight offers more authentic thrills than a dozen Marvel movies.
Even better, The Aeronauts reunites one of the most appealing film couples of the past decade, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones — last seen loving and crying their way through The Theory of Everything.
He is James Glaisher, the boyish (naturally) scientist desperately trying to prove to London’s academic elite that if you understand the structure of the upper atmosphere you can, indeed, predict the weather. And she’s Amelia Wren, the plucky daredevil who’s made a career of doing acrobatics while hanging from her balloon, high above the ground, to the horror and delight of paying customers.
Together they endeavor to sail higher than any man or woman has before, gaining international fame for her and precious atmospheric data for him. The film’s structure bounces between the pair’s airborne adventure and their individual backstories, fleshing out the crucial events that have led each of them to this particular basket at this particular altitude.
Glaisher was a real mid-1800 scientist; the fancifully named Amelia Wren is based on Sophie Blanchard, a gravity-defying female balloonist of the era. The two in all likelihood never met, and in real life Glaisher sailed aloft with a male colleague, played here with wide-eyed — if earthbound —devotion by Himesh Patel. The Aeronauts would certainly have worked as a buddy picture, but Hollywood has never been one to let the historical record stand in the way of a good love story.
In any case, while The Aeronauts’ human drama is satisfying, it’s the high-flying adventure sequences that have you grabbing at the arms of your theater seat. All sort of things go wrong, of course — in no small part due to the fact that neither aeronaut knows exactly what to expect when you go seven miles up. It is difficult to reconcile the outrageously expansive action of The Aeronauts with writer/director Tom Harper’s earlier entry from this year, the finely focused and intensely personal musical drama Wild Rose. Not since Steven Spielberg made both Munich and War of the Worlds in 2005 has a director spanned diverging genres with such aplomb in a single year.
The Aeronauts is one wild, quirkily romantic and pulse-pounding ride…and that’s not just a lot of hot air.
Featured image: © Amazon Studios
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