EIFF 2013: The Sea Review
The Hollywood News, 27 June 2013
Director: Stephen Brown.
Starring: Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, Sinead Cusack, Natascha McElhone, Rufus Sewell, Bonnie Wright.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Synopsis: Max (Ciaran Hinds) returns to a seaside spot where he spent his childhood, following his wife’s (Sinead Cusack) diagnosis with cancer.
Adapted from the Man Booker prize-winning novel of the same name, Stephen Brown’s feature debut deals with the demons that haunt our past and present. Opening to an expression of abject horror, we witness Max letting the seawater engulf him and his ostensible problems before snapping to a well-dressed version of himself. In the process of receiving terrible news, Max turns to drink and begins trudging through the past. Revisiting a picturesque estate he frequented as a child, the elegant Miss Vavasour (Charlotte Rampling) helps him through his addiction, while family secrets are uncovered with less than deft precision.
As Max struggles through this difficult situation, he anchors himself in childhood memories that are construed as repressed guilt. Spending a glorious summer with the Grace family, the young and intuitive Max finds himself torn between confused feelings of maternal love, curiosity and lust. The precocious Chloe sparks his sexual desires while ensuring he remains jealous of the bond she shares with her brother – a theme also seen in Max’s wariness regarding his wife’s male friends.
Directorial missteps undervalue the audience’s intelligence in these flashback sections, notably in the camera’s implementation of the male gaze when lingering over Natascha McElhone’s stilted but beautiful Connie. A frustrating blend of wooden and naturalistic, it is a surprise to realise author John Banville is responsible for a screenplay that often unfolds like an overblown television drama. Rufus Sewell and Bonnie Wright also suffer in these laborious and often unwelcome instagram-filtered interludes, Sewell an incongruous pantomime villain and Wright an underused but ultimately ineffective screen presence.
Devoid of conventional narrative, THE SEA both fears and embraces its namesake, all the while assisted by Andrew Hewitt’s exquisite score. Though Hinds’ quiet, pensive Max says enough through subtle expression to save it from being a wholly dismal affair, its eye rolling dramatic zenith makes you realise just how little you care for those on screen.