It's been 13 years since his breakthrough role in "28 Days Later," and I firmly believe that Irish actor Cillian Murphy is not a big star by his own design. Murphy has the looks and the talent, but he seems to be one of those artists who does slam-dunks like Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy in order to have the freedom to do lower-profile pieces like Peruvian writer-director Claudia Llosa's downer drama "Aloft," a gorgeous but frustrating misfire that delves into the estrangement between a mother and her son.
Most of "Aloft" unspools in flashback, with Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly as Nana, a single mother in the Arctic Circle seeking the help of a faith healer (opera singer William Shimell, "Certified Copy") for her terminally ill younger son. Murphy plays Nana's older son, Ivan, in the present-day thread, hitting the road with a documentarian (Mélanie Laurent, "Beginners") to search for his mother. Along the way Llosa parcels out little clues as to what drove the wedge between Nana and Ivan, and her exceedingly leisurely style fails to get the viewer truly involved in the puzzle. The pleasures here lie in the stark nature cinematography and the performances, especially Murphy as the damaged Ivan, seething with 20 years' worth of anger but desperate for answers.