In 1862, A daredevil balloon pilot and a meteorologist team up to reach new heights in the interest of scientific research in “The Aeronauts,” a soaring adventure film that reunites “The Theory of Everything” stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
Featured as a gala presentation at this year’s AFI FEST presented by Audi, this handsome production from director Tom Harper is somewhat dull in its on-the-ground drama but really takes flight with its thrilling, IMAX-ready aerial sequences. Inspired by Richard Holmes’ book “Falling Upwards” about 19thcentury ballooning, “The Aeronauts” features an engaging storyline rooted in reality with a pair of award-winning actors offering inspired performances that succeed in transporting audiences into the world of this high-flying period adventure. Featuring a competent script by prolific screenwriter Jack Thorne (“Wonder”) that captures the stomach-churning thrills and nail-biting dangers of the duo’s airborne adventure but comes up a touch short on the behind-the-scenes drama, “The Aeronauts” is a worthwhile adventure film even if the film feels somewhat lopsided due to the overwhelmingly impressive action in the sky. Still, given the breathtaking action, stunning cinematography and solid co-lead performances from the British acting duo, “The Aeronauts” is worth seeking out on in all its IMAX glory before it reaches Amazon Prime on December 20th.
Crosscutting between the death-defying duo’s record-breaking balloon flight and the action that preceded it, “The Aeronauts” centers on James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), a meteorologist who, despite common belief, is convinced that the weather can be predicted by analyzing atmospheric conditions, and is willing to risk his reputation on it. At a social gathering, James meets the daredevil balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), who is still reeling from a tragic experience involving her husband Pierre (Vincent Perez) from two years earlier, and tries to convince her to take him skyward so that he conduct his groundbreaking experiments.
Despite the objection of James’ father (Tom Courtenay) and Amelia’s sister (Phoebe Fox), the showwoman and the weatherman put aside their reservations and take flight in The Mammoth, an enormous gas balloon measuring 93,000 cubic feet, in front of an awe-inspired crowd. But the thrill of their airborne adventure soon gives way to fear, as the two travelers hit some unexpected dangers along their journey. As these two risk takers soar to uncharted heights, so too does the level of peril, with unexpected storms, freezing temperatures, and some nasty injuries jeopardizing their expedition.
With his highest profile feature to date, director Tom Harper (“Wild Rose”) delivers a captivating adventure tale whose true story origins make the proceedings all the more astonishing. Capturing the bold aerial action with gusto, Harper’s sharp direction brings audiences right into the basket of this unlikely duo’s perilous journey. Helping achieve this audacious action is the mesmerizing cinematography by George Steel, filmed to accommodate the IMAX format, and whose lack of CGI effects heightens the jaw-dropping nature of this excursion. The rousing score by Steven Price also nicely relates their incredible accomplishment.
Bringing this engaging production to its dramatic heights are the winning co-lead performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, making their second onscreen teaming after the award-winning Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything.” And while the circumstances that these characters finds themselves in are perhaps the bigger draw than the performances themselves, these seasoned performers still capture the emotions of the incredible experience with aplomb. The supporting actors are equally reliable in their service to the story, with “Yesterday” star Himesh Patel and Tom Courtenay standing out the most as James’ best friend and father.
“The Aeronauts” is a thrilling adventure whose aerial sequences makes up for the comparatively colorless on-the-ground action.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some peril and thematic elements.