Keeping a vital piece of information away from an audience can be a tricky narrative device. When done right, a film can build some narrative suspense and keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It’s a problem, though, when the information is predictable – and worse when the film can’t even muster any other reasons to watch. That’s the problem that plagues writer/director Claudia Llosa’s Aloft, which cuts between two timelines while barely hinting at the tragic event that links the two. And while said event is pretty predictable, even those who can’t guess will likely lose interest before the film’s reveal.
In the earlier timeline, Nana (Jennifer Connelly) raises two young boys: Ivan (Zen McGrath), a petulant child with a love for his pet hawk, and Gully (Winta McGrath), a purely sweet child with an unspecified terminal illness. With no viable medical options left to her, Nana seeks out a faith healer in search of a miracle cure. After an incident involving the hawk and a structure made of sticks, the faith healer believes that Nana has acquired his touch. Two decades later, Nana has amassed her own group of followers as she’s embraced her identity as a holy woman. Meanwhile, surviving son Ivan (Cillian Murphy as an adult) is now a married professional falconer, who gets an unexpected visit from a documentary filmmaker (Mélanie Laurent) who wants to make a film about him. Or maybe, more of a film about his mother.
It’s apparent that Llosa expects Aloft‘s mystery between its two timelines to be the hook for the story. Unfortunately, the film fails to offer anything to capture an audience’s attention. The characters are far too morose to be compelling, while the film’s visual style fails to make her unique setting stand out. The characters – Connelly and Murphy in particular – just seem to suffer. And suffer. And suffer some more. The film attempts to tackle issues of forgiveness and reconciliation, but in delaying the reveal of the reason for Nana and Ivan’s split in life, it’s hard to get invested. It’s enough to make someone wish they were one of Ivan’s birds so they can fly away.