MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Aloha’ Means Goodbye To Cameron Crowe In Hawaiian


Film: Aloha
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Cameron Crowe

Director Cameron Crowe, the guy who brought us the masterpiece that is Almost Famous, has been on a sharp decline in quality ever since that 2000 effort. Vanilla Sky was an ambiguous mess and Elizabethtown was the most self-indulgent road movie to date. We Bought a Zoo wasn’t terrible, but it was nevertheless harmless fluff. Aloha is no different. Is it a romantic drama? Is it a screwball comedy? Is it a drama steeped in supernatural Hawaiian mythos? Well, it tries and fails to be all of these things. It became shockingly clear in the first act that at least an hour of footage was cut from its runtime. As it stands now, Aloha is a cobbled-together mess that tries to emulate profundity through jarring tonal shifts.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a prolific military contractor for Carson Welch (Bill Murray), the owner of a private arms contracting corporation named Global One. After suffering a terrible injury in the line of duty, Gilcrest returns to Hawaii to bless a pedestrian gate ceremony. Here, he gets tangled up with his old ex-flame, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), and the Air Force liaison assigned to escort him around the islands, Allison Ng (Emma Stone). Gilcrest’s alliances to the local community are tested when Welch’s new project threatens to change the natives’ way of life. There are a million other subplots, but you get the gist.

Bradley Cooper is put at a crossroads with playing Gilcrest. He’s supposed to play this emotionally reactive man with a chip on his shoulder. On one hand, he’s a well-respected middleman between the American military and local native tribes. On the other hand, he’s a stooge meant to toe the line with Welch. On a third hand, he’s a man torn between the woman he made a mistake of leaving and another that pokes and prods him to do the right thing. He’s also kind of an asshole. Cooper tries to put on these multiple facades with the same emotionally explosive charm he had in Silver Linings Playbook. The difference here is that you can’t make the unlikable likable through the oozing of boyish charm and lame jokes.

Emma Stone seems lost in the void here. We’re supposed to be led to believe that her character is some socially awkward and somewhat emotionally devoid husk used by the military that finds hope in Gilcrest. From the get-go, it’s obvious that she pokes and prods at him because there’s chemistry there. She monologues about how the sky should be left untainted by people like Carson Welch. Seems a little hypocritical since she’s a fighter pilot, right? McAdams is another victim, as well. Her ex-flame character is more of a plot device for Gilcrest to play off of instead of anything else. Alec Baldwin turns in one of his career worst performances, too. He plays General Dixon, the hard-nosed military lifer that never liked Gilcrest, with such an immense vanity that you think someone had to constantly coddle Baldwin about his looks on set. Bill Murray is a bit of a savior here, but that’s only because his Carson Welch is Auric Goldfinger after downing a bottle of white rum.

What’s even worse is that Aloha has brief moments of brilliance. Gilcrest and Ng visit a native king to negotiate a deal where he would bless a ceremony in exchange for more land given back to him. The king wears a shirt that says “Hawaiian by birth” on the front and “American by force” on the back. Where’s this subplot about American military occupation of Hawaii going? Nowhere – but it would have been an absolute revelation to shift the narrative focus over to it. McAdams and Cooper also share a scene that is so well directed that you think it must be in another movie. Also, Bill Murray and Emma Stone get drunk and dance at a party. It’s about as cool as you may think.

Crowe used to be well known for producing visuals that make you feel like part of the film. With Aloha, even the landscape shots of Hawaii look like a high-contrasted mess. Most of the daytime dialogue scenes have sunlight blinding the viewer’s line of sight. Some handheld camera work that shifts with the characters feels like some kind of faux documentary style instead of cinematic.

Aloha tries to craft its own myth about a man reopening old wounds and healing them through emotional re-enlightenment. Instead, the film closes with an act focused in on world domination through private satellite launches. Don’t worry, the guy gets the girl and rights his wrongs by the end credits. I feel gross.


Review written by: Sam Cohen (follow him on Twitter!)

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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