Don’t see – ★★
British director Stephen Brown is making his feature debut with an adaptation of the hit John Banville novel The Sea which won the Man Booker prize nine years ago. Sad to say he may be in too deep.
The film was filmed and indeed is set in a small Wexford village. Ciarán Hinds is at the film’s centre, with his character Max re-visiting the place where he spent a fateful childhood summer to try and reconcile himself with a mysterious tragedy that happened there when he was a boy. He’s only forcing himself to revisit the past now as he grapples with the grief, trying to prevent himself completely unravelling following the recent death of his wife Anna. Max is continuously drinking and spends big chunks of the film alone and as drunk as a skunk. Charlotte Rampling plays the woman of the house where he is staying and is as distant, sedate and dry as you would expect.
A lot of the script is played out as childhood flashbacks and present day hallucinatory conversations with his wife. It’s a challenging narrative structure which no doubt played out well within the pages of a book but is very problematic on-screen. Banville himself wrote the script, and while he also worked on the adaptation of Albert Nobbs a few years ago, here things never really settle into their separate timelines. You’re just beginning to adjust to the gorgeous high contrast tones of the past when suddenly you’re dropped right back into the present day gloomy washed out pictures of Hinds looking longingly in the mirror or out to sea. In the end it’s hard to connect with any timeline.
Young Max is played by newcomer Matthew Dillon and he performs brilliantly as a city boy dropped into the countryside for the summer. Likewise Ronan and Yvonne Keating’s daughter Missy (yes really) performs admirably as Chloe, the young girl undergoing somewhat of an awakening trying to use Max to her advantage. The parents from that time, played with an irritating bubbliness and fueled by champagne by Natascha McElhone and Rufus Sewell seem initially bemused by the attentions of young Max but spend most of their time just concentrating on playing daft and racey.
It’s a strange thing to say but the film somehow manages to feel incredibly cheap. It’s nothing to do with the quality of the acting or the direction or anything, but there’s barely one non-speaking performer here. Would a few extras to sit on the beach or in the pub have been that hard to source?
At 86 minutes, the film is refreshingly short and yet feels like it could have all fitted into a 40 minute television drama. The cast all perform admirably but the whole thing just leaves you feeling very cold. Perhaps Banville’s script could have been moulded into something altogether more engaging by a more experienced, confident director but as it stands it feels like a waste of time – go read the book.
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