Passengers arrived months ago with a great deal of marketing but ended up with a rather soft landing. If not for a positive review when I was looking to see a video, I would likely have let it slip by. I’m glad I didn’t.
The film is held up by two pillars. The first is the production design, which is beautiful, well deserving of its Oscar nomination. It’s the lighter and more positive side of a film like Ex Machina.
Then of course there are the leads, who either hold the film together or are the reason to avoid it. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are two of the most likable and sympathetic actors today. (And this being a Hollywood film, of course they are both good-looking.) Her seriousness and intelligence blend well with his sturdy Everyman quality, especially as his is livened with a sense of humor that keeps the film grounded in some kind of earthly reality.
Neither actor completely nails the part. Perhaps the direction by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) ended up more concerned with the technical elements rather than the human ones. Lawrence rose to the occasion in each scene, covering a full emotional range throughout the film. But a solid character never completely emerges, and she is more of an accouterment to Pratt’s character and a projection of his desires and fears than a unique human being at times. Pratt is growing as a serious actor, and you can almost see his awe at finding himself a leading man. Again, he works hard in each scene and earns our sympathies early. His humor is invaluable to the film, too, and those lovely comic grace notes lift the entire film. He manages to do a respectable Tom Hanks/Cast Away feat of carrying a good deal of the film alone as well, and proves his leading man status in the process.
The film owes a good deal of its success to the presence of two other actors. The inimitable Michael Sheen (The Queen) is Britain’s answer to our own Stanley Tucci, who improves every film he is a part of. Here, Sheen plays a character we are happy to see at every occasion, and whose character moves the film forward while providing a series of opportunities for the main characters to express themselves in ways they couldn’t with just one another. He’s a complete delight. The other actor? You’ll just have to see the film.
The film looks like it might be simply a typical story of two pretty people caught in a space challenge of some kind. If pressed too hard, the holes and occasional lapses of believability in the story might pull some viewers out of the film. But the film concerns itself with issues far more interesting than the simple plot line. Try these:
- The issue of honesty in relationships
- What/who we are attracted to and why
- How changed circumstances put people together who may never have looked at one another in their “normal lives”
- How loneliness, neediness and pressure can lead to questionable decisions
- How danger/pressure can move us past our differences and offenses
There are others, of course, and they are worth not only discovering, but also discussing. If you let Passengers slide by, it might be time to pay the film a visit.