Directed By Roseanne Liang
Starring – Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale
The Plot – On a stormy night during World War II, female pilot, Maude Garrett (Moretz) with top secret cargo in-tow, talks her way on board a bomber plane about to take-off. The crass all-male crew reluctantly agrees, but their suspicions about her identity and the mysterious cargo quickly grow. Just then a shadow appears in the clouds. Was it the incoming Japanese fleet? Or caused by some other sinister stowaway?
Rated R for adult language throughout, sexual references and violence
– Unique framing. The beginning and end of this film are complimented with a visual blend of personality that not only immerses you right into the atmosphere of this movie’s particular time frame, but also corresponds thematically with where much of the movie’s material resonates. To kick this off, we are treated to an American propaganda segment similar to the Private Snafu’s that served as a series of adult-oriented instructional shorts meant to educate enlisted military personnel. Here, it is spoofed brilliantly to correspond with the film’s extraterrestrial antagonists, which in turn stitches together a fantastical aspect to this otherwise factual animated slice of history. For the film’s ending, a musical montage of female heroism in World War II preserves their importance, removing the perception that only men sacrificed during such a time. It’s a clever spin on the introduction and epilogue from this unique world that Liang manufactures, feeling like an immersive quality to enlisting that every soldier embraces upon initiation.
– Abundance of twists. One thing that I wasn’t expecting to this film was the changing of complexities within the characters and conflicts that seemed to elevate the tension in the movie’s second half, and preserved a layer of stakes that wasn’t initially detected in the movie’s marketing. Far from this being just a war movie about real soldiers with real lives at stake, there’s a discovery midway through the film about Moretz’ character that shakes the foundation within this intimate setting with a universally resounding impact. Held together with Liang’s intense grip on the film’s direction, it better helps overcome some of the seeds of complacencies in a repetitious story, and gives audiences plenty to invest in with a script that sheds its layers of familiarity every twenty minutes or so. The twists were very unpredictable for me personally, and served as a welcome blend of humanity to the conflict’s extraterrestrial circumstances.
– Diverse experience. In this being a story about a female World War II fighter pilot, screenwriter Max Landis is able to capitalize on a distinct set of experiences for his unorthodox protagonist that vividly paints the picture on what these gender minorities faced during their first wartime experiences. Much of it is rooted in the often overzealous dialogue of the characters, complete with overtly sexist tones and disrespectful remarks made by male characters that only view Moretz as one thing for their convenience. It preserves a level of empathetic investment for her character that not only makes her a protagonist worth valueing, but also feeds into the magnitude in character evolution that the she elicits throughout this three act structure. For my money, cinema could use more films about female influence during wartime, with this being the most memorable since 1991’s “A League of Their Own”. It serves an agenda without weighing down the integrity of the story like most contemporary cause films, and satisfies a curiosity that while not entirely factual, does supplant a layer of fantastical admiration for female audiences.
– Challenging cinematography. Kit Fraser pitches himself a beauty with this spell-binding abundance of camera movements and claustrophobic angles that bottles as much of the intensity of the movie’s forefront as possible. The faithfulness of this movie’s mostly one primary setting feeds into the tight-knitted proximity to Moretz, which in turn outlines grave vulnerability for the character in witnessing a barrage of enemy planes and something far more sinister constantly aiming to take her out. In addition to this, the reflective quality of turbulent planes spinning upside down is garnered in Fraser’s meticulously gravity-defining tilts that illustrate much of the experience without compromising the integrity of the imagery for us the audience. There is shaky-cam effects used during times of attack for the crew, but it never distorts or makes the experience sickening on motion meandering, instead crafting a smooth, immersive experience that shows off Kit’s single best work behind the lens to date.
– Synth scintillating score. The work of composer Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper is hypnotic to say the least, instilling sharp electric keyboards and alarming horns that add a hearty layer of underlining tension to what transpires in frame. This is very much the early pick for my favorite score of 2021, combining an occasionally other-world feeling to the audible capacity, which maintains a sealing of danger that plagues these characters with a sense of overwhelming danger. There were times when I was reminded of early Cliff Marinez work, complete with these dark and foreboding tones that build with time, and overwhelming volume control that made the fear of the unknown practically inescapable. Mahuia manages the same feat here, without his consistency in instruments ever feeling redundant or derivative of his past work, and making him a pivotal figure to the film’s success, that would be limited without him.
– One woman show. The entirety of the performances are mostly non-existent because the film never spends time on anyone besides our lead. Thankfully, Chloe Moretz is up to the task, as she delivers another balanced performance that resides on the brunt physicality that made her a memorable force as Hit-Girl, with the emotional complexity that she has brought her along through some dramatic turns in the more recent half of her career. Here, Chloe takes command with clever nuances for the character that not only feeds into the movie’s secrets, but also makes her a force to be reckoned with against an all male ensemble that makes her feel anything but welcome. It would be easy for her to sleep through this role for a movie that will most likely rarely see the light of day, but Moretz admirable energy makes the most of the opportunity, and outlines a rubbery protagonist who takes a lot, and bounces it back in the face of her opposition.
– Overwhelming disbelief. To say that this film asks you to suspend disbelief is the understatement of the year, so instead I will say that this movie flies off the rails with a third act that defines gravity in ways that hasn’t been seen since the Fast and Furious franchise. Without spoiling anything, Moretz character is tasked to rescue something fragile back from an adversary in the third act, and it’s so obvious to anyone with even half a brain that this object would be ruined because of the abundance of times it is moved upside down and shook. There’s more that I could go on with this particular problem, but it would give away too much. In addition to this, Moretz hangs off of the plane with only a series of wires holding up her 100+ pound frame, as well as the 10+ pounds of what she is carrying. With the gravitational pull added to this, we can piece together that these wires must be made of nothing short of concrete to withstand this immense amount of pressure.
– Stilted run time. With “Shadow in the Cloud” clocking in at a measly 75 minute run time, something had to be sacrificed along the way, and unfortunately it comes in the form of limited characterization, which the film has a lazy way of attacking. Instead of introducing us to these characters one by one in the opening act of the movie, we are treated to visual likenesses, which correspond with their voices we hear over the plane’s radio. If you count their dialogue, you can piece together that each of them are essentially one character spouting the same lines and personality that becomes insufferable by the twenty minute mark into the film. Another unfortunate problem is with the movie’s convoluted story sometimes reaching to be too much, and not feeling synthetic between their mixed directions. For this film, it’s occasionally a feminist commentary, occasionally a creature feature, and occasionally an action juggernaut. These aims are fine enough in a film with enough time to materialize each of their identities, but the limited run time severely restricts their appeals, and fails each of them in ways that are nothing memorable within their subgenre.
– Inconsistent special effects. For the most part, the computer generated designs of the antagonists are passable enough when illustrated in the nighttime shadows, which constantly elicits darkness around their rendering. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case during the film’s only daytime sequence, where the artificial movements and texture outlines become too obvious to properly suspend disbelief. Considering this movie was made for nearly 28 million dollars, I feel like it could’ve afforded one more sit inside the room of post production that could’ve rendered their likenesses all the more believable. I’ve seen movies where this is done better for cheaper, so there’s no excuse at this point why they can’t attain this level of symmetry that far exceeds the daytime caption surrounding it, and make this something that is terrifyingly effective.
– Factual inaccuracies. This is the single biggest problem of the movie for me because it’s taking a story that exists in a factual world, and blending it with shades of fantastical aspects to feed towards plot convenience. For one, it is shown and/or mentioned that Maude is a flight mechanic, a pilot, a tail gunner and a soldier. While it is true that the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) did employ female flight mechanics and pilots, it is however not true in that WAAF members were trained across multiple specialties. This would immediately be discovered by other soldiers, who would then keep her from boarding a military plane on suspect. On top of this, Maude mentions that she’s a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and has logged 200 hours with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), flying into combat zones over the Pacific. This is despite the fact that WAAF members did not fly into combat. Finally, One of the aircrew members tells Maude that she has no authority aboard their B-17 flight, calling her an “auxiliary civilian”. To which, Maude replies “Correction: I am a flight officer”. The aircrewman is correct in that members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) were indeed civilians and hence had no authority over military personnel. Probably not a big deal to typical moviegoers, but to someone like myself so riveted by history, it disturbs me when a film’s producers can’t take a little more time to search historical facts during a time when it’s technologically easiest.
My Grade: 6/10 or C