Movie Review: 'The Aeronauts'

Dec 5, 2019
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones last teamed up for the film "The Theory Of Everything." It is an award-winning movie about physicist Stephen Hawking. Well, the stars are back together now in a film about another scientist, although our critic Bob Mondello says he found it hard to focus on the science in "The Aeronauts."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: 1862 - a crowd has gathered in a London park to see the liftoff of a hot air balloon. A guy with lots of instruments is on board, and to his great annoyance, a showgirl has just cartwheeled in. But she's his pilot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AERONAUTS")

EDDIE REDMAYNE: (As James Glaisher) The flight works (ph).

FELICITY JONES: (As Amelia Wren) Are you ready?

REDMAYNE: (As James Glaisher) Yes, I just need to retake my ground readings and then do one final check of the equipment.

JONES: (As Amelia Wren) Well, my equipment was all prepared in advance. Now, don't touch this rope, Mr. Glaisher, because it'll let out the gas.

REDMAYNE: (As James Glaisher) I do know how a balloon works.

MONDELLO: She signals the ground crew...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AERONAUTS")

REDMAYNE: (As James Glaisher) What are you doing?

MONDELLO: ...Releasing the ropes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AERONAUTS")

JONES: (As Amelia Wren) We fly. The sky awaits.

REDMAYNE: (As James Glaisher). Wait - no, these ground readings aren't...

MONDELLO: The balloon is ascending majestically, as it's shot mostly from the ground at first. Then the point of view shifts, putting us in the basket with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the ground receding below, she climbing into the rigging and pretending to slip.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AERONAUTS")

JONES: (As Amelia Wren) Woo (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD GASPING)

MONDELLO: And I start to realize something - my palms are sweating. It was a few minutes more before I started shrinking into the back of my seat, clutching at the armrest, as the filmmakers helpfully put altitude readings on screen - 1,000 feet, 11,000 feet. And it wasn't until the big storm hit...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AERONAUTS")

REDMAYNE: (As James Glaisher) Wait - not one of my readings suggested a storm.

JONES: (As Amelia Wren) Well, that's what it is.

MONDELLO: ...That I started almost whimpering to myself, what are you doing here? You're afraid of heights.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AERONAUTS")

REDMAYNE: (As James Glaisher) Don't worry - she's not made of conductive material so we won't attract lightning.

JONES: (As Amelia Wren) And if we are struck, the gas will explode. So we won't live long enough for...

MONDELLO: Director Tom Harper has both of his stars leaning back against the sides of a wicker basket that seems just about high enough to trip them should they make a misstep, and they make plenty. Apparently, most of what happens in the film actually happened to balloon-atics (ph) back in the 1800s, though not all on one voyage. There's dramatic urgency to spare and not a lot of hot air when it comes to dialogue. And if you're like me, you'll be relieved that the filmmakers keep flashing back to events on the ground, which allows you to unclench a little.

I won't make great claims for "The Aeronauts" as a drama about a pioneering meteorologist, but as a thrill ride, it's certainly effective on a big screen, which makes it sad that it's only going to be on a few big screens and only for a couple of weeks, before it starts streaming on Amazon. We'll need to get used to that, I suppose. Amazon has also released "The Report" this awards season. Netflix has "The Irishman" and "Marriage Story." All of those are intimate enough to work just fine on a home screen. "The Aeronauts," well, I cannot say strongly enough that if you can see it in IMAX, you should see it in IMAX, where if you're even a little bit afraid of heights, it will likely scare you shoutless (ph).

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.