Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
This originally ran on VeryAware.com
Writer-director Claudia Llosa’s ALOFT is your below average, stereotypical “weepy weepy mope mope” Sundance movie. However, it’s a veritable sitcom compared to her first feature, THE MILK OF SORROWS. It’s like if you take WALK THE LINE’s early years, minus the drugs and rock n’ roll music, and then add falconry and faith healing. This kind of sad narrative creates music legends, not falconers. Maybe the drugs and music superstardom also happened here and was cut for time reasons – we’ll never know. Though the vibe of the picture is KES meets CHILDREN OF MEN, what’s actually there is a substandard story set against the backdrop of a heightened family dynamic that pits faith against skepticism – and mother against child.
The chilly melodrama opens on a flashback; single mom Nana (Jennifer Connelly) is braving the bitter cold with her two young sons – falconer Ivan (Zen McGrath) and sick Gully (Winta McGrath) – and a trained pet hawk in tow. They are on their way to see “The Architect” (William Shimell), a faith healer whose abilities Nana doubts. Since her palpable desperation cuts deeper than the stinging, frigid sorrow of losing Gully to cancer, this is her last hope. However, a strange circumstance involving Ivan’s rogue falcon reveals Nana is actually the chosen one with the healing touch. Two decades later, now-estranged son Ivan (Cillian Murphy) is grown with a loving family – but still harbors resentment toward the woman who abandoned him. When documentary journalist Jannia (Mélanie Laurent) shows up at his door seeking answers about his elusive and reclusive mother, he joins her on a quest for closure – although Jannia, too, has ulterior motives. More angsty memories come flooding back on his trip to the Arctic North for his surprise chilly reunion.
Llosa’s nonlinear format, switching from Ivan’s dream-like past to present day pains, supposedly builds a mystery by layering suspense around what could have distanced a mom from her sons. The problem is it’s not that enthralling – and, had this been told linearly, the dramatics would lack punch. It’s really an event in the long line of Nana’s irresponsible actions that will test the audience’s patience. Nana has her father to watch her sons, so why did she always leave her kids in the car unsupervised? Some will call Nana brave. She’s not. She’s not doing the best she can, she’s reckless – and her son later repeats a different form of disregard. Why does adult Ivan even care enough about closure to abandon his own family and risk death, walking on a precarious ice lake in order to see his mom one last time?
Nana’s path towards accepting her gift of healing others is confusing. Could she not have chosen her own son as her test subject? Is this the guilt she harbors? We can’t help but sympathize with the true victim of her negligence – Ivan – but again, he’s not all that great either. The mystery is not what drove them apart, but what kept them together without Child Protective Services taking the kids away. Plus, it’s also hard not to cast shade on Jannia’s “gotcha” style journalism, though no one calls her out on it. Taking Ivan along as her sidekick is best suited to Maury, not a documentary, even if that in itself is somewhat of a ruse.
While the cast’s performances are ultimately the film’s greatest takeaway, it’s not what’s going to make ALOFT rise above the competition.
ALOFT is available on Blu-ray/DVD on tomorrow, September 29.