Quick Reviews: 'The Aeronauts', 'High Life' | Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Robert Pattinson
If I’m able to check out a film about something completely or nearly new to me, it’s good to do without reading about the subject matter which could influence the experience. With The Aeronauts, directed by Tom Harper, a story partly compiled from a real hot air balloon journey, it felt especially wise. There’s a significant personnel change that’s done for this movie adaptation, which led to one of the better parts of it. As the balloon rises, so does the excitement about the film.
It’s always a treat if the story builds first and ends with a successful payoff in the second half. That’s what happens here as we’re introduced first to the main characters, scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) and pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), and then at hour-or-so in we get to the action and thrills. Their continuous rise to the skies in the name of science is surrounded by some beautiful VFX work and sound design. During these times of CGI-blockbusters it’s nice to have a classic adventure feature that uses that technology as a background and not as an attention grabber. A reminder that there’s a need for both, depending on the story in hand. It all adds up to Jones’ great performance in the latter half.
Any of the flashbacks or secondary location scenes happening on the ground don’t really work in the context of the whole thing. Everything happening in that little basket and flashbacks referencing previous flights are the interesting part of the film. Cuts to Amelia’s family members felt needless as the plot doesn’t really involve them at all. The 100 minute runtime could’ve easily been a tighter 85 or 90 or we could’ve spent even more time in the basket with James and Amelia, the actors had good chemistry and characters’ ideologies clash in nice fashion. This is where not being all up in arms about historical accuracy really helps.
Smileys: Felicity Jones, VFX, sound design
Frowneys: Structure, editing
Biggest dog scare of film history also present? Possibly.
Very much a story full of highs and lows, High Life from veteran director Claire Denis definitely isn’t a sidestep from the expectations you’d have. There’s no shortage of lingering shots, longing facial expressions or intensely designed colour palettes in it and that offers plenty of chances to the filmmakers to do unusual things. Depending on the viewer, those unusual things will either stun or startle. The film certainly opens up a lot about human feelings even if at times it’s done over-dramatically.
Right from the start you appreciate how immersive everything feels. Sets, sounds, music and colours take a viewer to a place that you don’t want to look away from which is always splendid. The spaceship that we are lumped in with the characters feels familiar from other space movies but it’s still used in its own way (”The Box”, am I right?). High Life’s structure is quite unpredictable which makes the ride way more fun than with other films that have similarly disturbing imagery attached. That unpredictability also makes the script and plot feel fresh as it never preaches to you how you should feel about everything that’s happening, instead it gives you a starting point for your own thought process.
With all that said, the movie does come off as over-directed. Often what Denis decides to have in the frame is neither essential or aesthetically pleasing, it is just something for the sake of ”more is more” when the script already feels elevated enough. Whatever bodily fluids you imagine for space travel, you will see them even from people that barely have any effect on the particular scene. There are parts and sequences mixed with those weird choices that drag pretty badly so sometimes you will want to jump to the black hole to look for the next scene. Good performances from Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, Juliette Binoche and André Benjamin will keep you engaged for most of it nevertheless.
Smileys: Atmosphere, structure, screenplay
Frowneys: Pacing, directing
The Box will haunt you.