Published Sep 10, 2012Making his strongest films when embracing the darkest of humour and the most unreasonable of human characteristics – save for highly effective thriller Jar City – Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur steps outside of his comfort zone with The Deep by making an inspirational true story about the nature of miracles.
It's a broader and more ambitious project than his previous films made in his native Iceland, balancing provincial sensibilities with his American studio experience working on the weirdly superior Contraband.
Noted as being "inspired by" true events that occurred in 1984, the plot of this low-key disaster film is exceedingly straightforward, following a group of fisherman on a routine catch that goes awry when their net snags and sinks their boat.
This tragedy, which is shot with an impressively realist and unembellished sensibility to maintain the respect attributed to the actual event, comes with little context or development, aside from typical male bonding shenanigans. The night prior to the accident, the guys go out on a bender, where the large and looming Gulli (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) protects their new cook from a beating.
With everyone dead so early in the film, we're left with Gulli floating in the water, gradually succumbing to the cold waters off the shore of Iceland's Westman Islands. Aside from some home video flashbacks, which are far too generic and unspecified to generate the intended pathos, much time is spent on Gulli bobbing in the water recounting his life, only to find the expected strength to survive in the face of hardship.
While this depiction of tragedy in itself is handled with enough dignity and panache to work as a human survival parable, the tacked on metaphors and third-act storylines essentially kill any possible emotional investment or lasting impact. There's a tenuous handling of science versus God didactic when doctors examine Gulli to see how someone could survive in cold water for multiple hours, but its partial realization and lack of depth leaves it lingering in the void of a story fallen of its rails.
It's as though the focus on realist sensibilities free from Kormákur's trademark humour and satirical sense of humanity actually denigrated the quality, leaving us with a well-constructed disaster and a lot of irrelevant white noise surrounding it. (Blueeyes)