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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Aloft (Blu-ray)
Aloft (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // R // September 29, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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In theory, Aloft makes for a compelling story. The way characters interact and bounce off one another in the film brings to mind an elaborate domino game, a chain of cause and effect that makes dramatic sense. Arcs mirror each other, and writer/director Claudia Llosa clearly has a deep empathy for each character's perspective, and the performances by her cast range from decent to excellent. Yet, for some reason, the film is more respectable than moving, with the construction of Llosa's narrative showing through, like the viewer is watching a blueprint of a good movie than actually seeing one.

The film cuts back and forth between two threads. Jennifer Connelly plays Nana Kunning, a single mother trying desperately to get some sort of medical assistance for her young boy, Gully (Winta McGrath), who is afflicted with an unspecified terminal illness. She takes Gully and her other son, Ivan (played as a child by Zen McGrath) to see a faith healer, Newman (William Shimell), who she hopes will provide a miracle cure, but Ivan's beloved pet falcon gets loose and destroys Newman's hut, causing him to leave without helping the other parents. One parent kills the falcon in retribution. Nana returns home, devastated, only to have Newman reappear, claiming that the boy who happened to be in the hut when the bird entered was healed -- but he didn't touch the child, Nana did.

Llosa also shows us Ivan, now played by Cillian Murphy, living a quiet life with a wife and child, breeding birds in a barn behind his house. He is contacted by Jannia Ressmore (Melanie Laurent), a journalist who claims she wants to write about his birds. When she inquires about his mother, now a globally reknowned faith healer, Ivan throws her out, but his bitterness is eventually overcome by curiosity. He agrees to join her on her real project, a documentary about Nana, in order to confont her.

It would be easy to say that the uniting theme of Aloft is faith, given the importance of faith healing in the story, but for many of Llosa's characters, faith is more like a combination of desperation and hope. When word of Nana's miracle reaches the people who were turned away because of the falcon, she is confronted by the man who killed the falcon. Simultaneously, the man is struggling with the terror of his kid's injury, his regret at having shot the bird, the hope that Nana could help him, his expectation that she will not because of his actions, and -- still -- anger at the way Nana's actions prevented him from being able to see Newman. It's one of the most compelling scenes in the film, and throughout, Llosa illustrates how Nana is no different. In one scene, she pressures a lover to contact a doctor he knows, only for him to weasel out and eventually imply she doesn't have her child's best interests at heart. The look Connelly's face afterward speaks volumes.

One of the most skillful segues in the narrative is how Nana's commitment to Gully manifests itself to Ivan as abandonment, who only sees a mother who dedicates all of her time to his brother. Murphy gives the film's best performance, effortlessly tying a climactic moment in Connelly's story, performed by the younger actors, into his own emotional state. Llosa also performs a bit of sleight of hand, placing a critical scene for Ivan earlier in the story than the exposition that reveals what the moment means to his character.

With so much good work in the film, pinpointing why the movie isn't successful is tough, but the editing is the most likely culprit, with what one could argue is an imbalance in cutting between Connelly and Murphy's stories. There is no clear rhythm or flow in terms of why Llosa cuts from one to another at a certain point, and at least one scene in Connelly's story feels like dead weight (a scene at a swimming pool merely provides unnecessary exposition). Worse, the film builds to a scene that fails to live up to the drama that came before it. Ivan's journey could easily have been emotional rather than literal, an unfortunate example of the film itself not having enough faith to take the route less traveled.

The Blu-ray
Aloft arrives with artwork that focuses on the film's cast, with a large image of Jennifer Connelly's face front and center despite the film focusing as much on Cillian Murphy's character as it does hers. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, Aloft looks as strong as one would hope from a Sony title. Fine detail is crisp and precise, the film's muted color palette is rendered faithfully, and some scenes that take place in the middle of the night have a natural appearance, with no intrusive artifacting or banding noticeable. The look of the film itself doesn't set the stage for an eye-popping transfer, but this very naturalistic movie captures the bright, cool sensation of an icy lakeside.

Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is on par with the image. Scenes involving cracking ice which are meant to convey a weakening underneath the surface have a terrifying realism, and the mix captures the same atmospheric accuracy as the picture in terms of the film's sparse, snowy setting, especially when it comes to the empty whistle of icy wind surrounding the viewer. Dialogue is rendered with clarity, and music sounds full and rich. Portuguese and Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks are also on board, along with English, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Extras

Trailers for The Salt of the Earth, Lambert & Stamp, Saint Laurent, Infinitely Polar Bear, Testament of Youth, and Jimmy's Hall play before the main menu. The same program of trailers can be accessed from the main menu under "Previews." No trailer for Aloft is included.

Aloft is not a bad film, but it can't quite pull itself together. The editing of the movie's two narratives ultimately feels more arbitrary than artistic, and the film's most compelling moments occur before its climax. There is the chance that this version of the film has been edited down for American audiences, but if so, it's still not perfect, a film with high points that doesn't quite soar. Rent it.

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