“Shadow in the Cloud,” Roseanne Liang’s full-on bonkers film, and that’s the best thing about it. The worst, too.
Look, I like unhinged movies as much as anyone. Maybe more. As long as they’re carried off with a certain aplomb, a tough-to-find balance of taking the story seriously even while you’re blowing the rules out the window.
Or cockpit. Most of the film (★★★½ out of five; rated R; in theaters and streaming Friday on Apple TV, Vudu and FandangoNOW) takes place in a B-17 bomber during World War II. But eventually it goes too far, even in the context of the story it’s telling. That doesn’t take away from the performance of Chloë Grace Moretz, around whom the film is structured. She’s really good, making the unbelievable … OK, not believable. But palatable.
And it’s never less than edge-of-your-seat fun.
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Moretz plays Maude Garrett, a woman in a flight suit who talks her way onto the plane, sporting an arm in a sling and a black eye with orders to transport a secret package. The all-male crew – an absurdly chauvinistic crew, insulting to the point of abusive – doesn’t exactly welcome her presence.
But she’s got orders signed by a major no one wants to cross, so they stick her in a turret below while continuing to make lewd sexual comments about her as she’s listening on the radio.
Garrett’s tough, though. She’s clearly dealt with this kind of thing before. All she cares about is the safety of the package.
Then things get weird. As we knew they would.
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Liang begins the film with an animated short Allied Air Force training film about gremlins, the monsters that bedevil planes (and, the cartoon insists, are nothing more than an excuse for screw-ups on the crew’s part).
What if gremlins were real? If you’ve ever seen the famous “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” you know this isn’t the first script to ask that question, or to answer it. The toxic jerks of the crew already think Garrett’s crazy, so when she starts seeing not just Japanese fighter planes but a gremlin on the wing of the plane, they act with predictable imbecility. But now it’s no longer just their toxic ignorance she’s fighting.
Of course, she’s right. And as one less-backward crew member (Taylor John Smith) puts it, she’s more of an airman than any of them will ever be.
That’s not a spoiler. Most of the movie involves Garrett fighting one thing or another, whether it’s shooting down planes or fending off gremlins or risking her life to keep the secret package secure. “You have no idea how far I’ll go” to keep it safe, she screams at the gremlin at one point, and she’s not kidding.
Moretz is good at all this. A long stretch of the film is just her sitting in the turret, talking with the crew as they heap abuse on her, knifing through it to make sure the package isn’t harmed. It’s kind of a mini-version of Tom Hardy in “Locke,” when Hardy spends the entire movie driving a car, the camera basically trained on him the whole time. That’s an amazing performance.
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