(2015) * R
112 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Claudia Llosa. Cast: Mélanie Laurent, Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy.

/content/films/4796/1.jpg"How can a mother abandon her son for something she can't even explain?" So asks the character played by Cillian Murphy of the character played by Jennifer Connolly in the very serious, very dull Aloft. It's a fair question, but then so is "how can a writer-director waste so much time, including our own, on a story she can't even explain?"

Okay, that's a cheap shot, but Aloft deliberately trades in the elliptical, and while Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Llosa (The Milk of Sorrow) admirably resists spoon-feeding the audience, she also goes out of her way to obscure expository details that might make her story easier to swallow. In Aloft, two timelines, with characters in common, unfold twenty years apart. Conventional medicine has failed bitter, angry pig-farmer Nana Kunning (Connelly), and so she desperately seeks faith healing for her terminally ill son Gully (Winta McGrath), with his brother Ivan (Zen McGrath) in tow. Newman (William Shimell of Certified Copy), a.k.a. "the Architect," employs "art and nature as a means of healing," but unaccountably (cruelly?) keeps supply low despite high demand.

In the other storyline, twenty years later, a grown Ivan (Murphy) has become a bitter, angry falconer, twinning his mother's story by embarking on his own journey into the remotest north of the Arctic Circle, where another faith healer holds the promise of drama, and maybe more, for the documentary filmmaker (Mélanie Laurent) who has taken to hounding Ivan. With a little distance from Aloft, viewers will understand Llosa's gambit to cryptify the plot, given the blunt obviousness of what passes for drama here.

Oona Chaplin, great-granddaughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, plays Ivan's suffering wife Alice, which is ironic given that what Aloft builds to, after nearly two lugubrious hours, is a half-baked grasp at an O'Neill-esque theatrical outburst. In that disappointing emotional climax, Murphy obligingly emotes with wet eyes and yelling, but it's enough to make audiences flinch more so for the reliable but let-down actor than the unlikeable character he's asked to play.

Prior to that hot-tempered moment, Aloft is mostly icy depression, a key that both Connelly and Murphy comfortably play in but that does the audience few favors in holding its interest. At times one feels there's an interesting film here struggling to break free (free as a bird!)—a film with something interesting or relevant to say about the psychology around faith healing and mortality—but what's made it to screen sends eyes aloft in its symbolism and its character dynamics. Unlike Llosa's film, let me offer you a straightforward question and answer: should you see Aloft? Nah.

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