Quick review: 3.75 stars Death defying feats in the name of science! The issue with doing anything at more than a mile above the ground is every incident becomes literal life and death. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great adventure flick and if you have Amazon Prime and a decent TV you’ll love making this your date night in. And it’s clean! One the family ages 8+ could absolutely enjoy together.
Longer review: Like I was saying the intensity is a bit imbalanced. And while the film is really good about spacing out the death defying things with the work it took to get there, the wonder of discoveries made while “dancing among the stars,” and the emotional journeys of the characters, there’s just a little too much tension for most of the film. It waxes a little old after a while.
The other issue with most films that take place in an inherently life threatening locale is that the story work to get there is often sparse. It’s easy to have death defying adventures one right after another without really earning that level of jeopardy. It also cheapens the stakes when it is essentially the same risks over and over again.
For this pair, the constant threat of falling to their deaths is stressed from the very first moments of the movie with flashbacks of the death of pilot Amelia Wren’s husband. Amelia, played by Felicity Jones, brings a wide eyed intensity to everything she does. It plays well both in the obstacle filled run up to the balloon launch as well in the death defying adventures aboard. Her exuberance is paired almost step for step with the impassioned, analytical studiousness of scientist James Glaisher played by Eddie Redmayne (who can probably do no wrong).
Honestly, the film unfolds in a fairly predictable way. The two exceptions are surprisingly tender moments in Glashier’s life prior to the launch. These vignettes are sprinkled throughout the movie, obviously as a narrative device to break up the harrowing balloon ascent. One is Glashier on the roof of the royal science academy with his good friend John Trew, played by Himesh Patel who is fastly becoming one of my favorites- if you haven’t seen Yesterday yet stop reading and go do so now! Anyway as they watch another man lift off in a balloon James is clearly both inspired and resentful that he’s not the one up there. John assures him, as any good friend would, that he will get a chance to show all the old men of the society his quality one day. In fact, John’s support is instrumental to the eventual liftoff of the Glashier/Wren enterprise to bring the human flight height record back to England and gather the data to prove that meteorology is a valid science.
The other sweet moment involves Jame’s relationship with his father played by Tom Courtenay, who has been a favorite of mine since his performance in Little Dorrit. He has such a distinctive voice that is suited to a particular sort of older gentleman’s role. His character here suffers from some form of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and the last exchange we see between him and his son is one that any care taker of an ailing elder will recognize, both for it’s emotional difficulty and it’s precious warmth.
I enjoyed this film immensely. Really. I just felt a little spent afterwards, and wished that the single trip in the balloon hadn’t been treated as the thing that saved them both from their emotional demons. There is also more than a little imbalance between Redmayne and Jone’s characters in terms of obstacles to face and mountains to climb. She comes off conqueror and he comes off as the guy that crunched the numbers.
My recommendation is to wait for Prime to release it later this month in what looks like the streaming industry’s newest business model—make a movie, hype it, do a short theater release, then run it exclusively through your service. If you don’t have Prime, it’s probably worth the $10 to see it if it’s playing near you, rather than the $119 to get Amazon.
Until next time, enjoy the show.