"The Aeronauts"

2019 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: Ambitious in scope, partnered with unnerving yet breathtaking visuals, Tom Harper‘s softly structured “The Aeronauts” embarks on a perilous journey of the senses. Helmed by a fearless turn from Felicity Jones, the scale of the picture is an admirable endeavor, although in a movie where the two leads brave the elements of rain, snow, and cold, the film often lays dry, stale, and uneventful. This is mostly due to an awkward story structure, weaving between the present and what lead to it. What “The Aeronauts” successfully accomplishes, which can be revisited and examined after its release, is inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, to ask questions, and seek out the unknown.

The Aeronauts” is inspired by the true story of James Glaisher’s record-breaking ascent in a hot air balloon on September 5, 1862.  Omitting Glaisher’s real-life co-pilot Henry Coxwell completely, he is replaced with pilot Amelia Wren (Jones). Along with scientist and meteorologist Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), they find themselves in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a hot air balloon.

Harper, who also co-writes with Jack Thorne, puts his primary focus on the visualization of two humans flying high in the sky, in close quarters, and the nauseating feeling of being that high and in peril. A similar comparison would be Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk,” which similarly put the focus on the experience of walking between the Twin Towers. Much like the flaws in Zemeckis’ film, the story stumbles to grasp the viewer for its entire run time.  Simplistic dialogue that comes off as a pandering attempt to capture the moment of the day, with the fight for equality and women’s rights. It never feels completely genuine but does offer moments to shine.

Felicity Jones has never been more charismatic and multi-faceted. Her best acting work since in her Oscar-nominated role in “The Theory of Everything,” Jones’ dedication to the pain and resilience is an excellent example of true empowerment for female characters, which becomes frustrating by some of the cheesy wording that surrounds her by her male counterparts. Her bravura work has the ability to encourage little girls to continue to chase their dreams, comparable to what “Hidden Figures” did in 2016. Jones slices through her scenes like a knife, sharp and immaculately executed.

Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne will always have the natural talent to overcome any work that is bogged down with conventional issues like script or direction. He’s far too talented to befall to such shortcomings. While he attacks his role in the same manner in which he took on Stephen Hawking, he lands with subtle results. The viewer also would have benefited from more Himesh Patel, already having a big breakout year with this and Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” from earlier this year.

Story aside, production design, costumes, visual effects, and especially music by Oscar-winner Steven Price, is well worth a ticket to the theater. It should be seen on the largest screen possible, with the best sound system that can handle it. It’ll keep you strapped to your chair.

The Aeronauts” may not hit on all cylinders but there are bright spots that equate to something that is entertaining and pleasing.

“The Aeronauts” is distributed by Amazon Studios and opens in theaters on Dec. 6.

GRADE: (★★½)