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The Sea (2013)

 |  Drama  |  18 April 2014 (Ireland)
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Ratings: 6.1/10 from 181 users   Metascore: 60/100
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The story of a man who returns to the sea where he spent his childhood summers in search of peace following the death of his wife.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Max Morden
Anna Morden
Joe Gallagher ...
Karen Scully ...
Miss Vavasour
Connie Grace
Carlo Grace
Matthew Dillon ...
Young Max
Chloe Grace
Padhraig Parkinson ...
Myles Grace
Paul McCloskey ...
Barman (as Fred Paul McCloskey)
Shopgirl - Sadie


The story of a man who returns to the sea where he spent his childhood summers in search of peace following the death of his wife.

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Oh, I don't like to be beside the seaside...
8 June 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The Sea is comprised of three different threads, each thread containing respected British actors. In the modern day we have art historian Max Morden (Ciarin Hinds), a gloomy middle-aged Irishman who is predictably an alcoholic widower. He's visiting the place where he used to holiday as a child. It's run by poised landlady and mystery woman Miss Vavasour (Charlotte Rampling). In the recent past, there is Max's tending after his wife who is dying of cancer (Sinead Cusack). And in the very past (the 1970s) we see twelve-year-old Max's holiday romance and the wealthy family he spends his time with, the eccentric patriarch Carlo (Rufus Sewell) and his yummy mummy wife Connie (Natasha McElhone), who gets the young boy's hormones stirring.

From the looks of the cinematography, you'd think that this was a Chekhovian tragedy. The present is shot in horrible blue and grey tones, both reflecting and emphasising the dullness of the events. Hinds' portrayal of Max (Matthew Dillon) is unsympathetic; he comes across as a gloomy old bore, dragging down the narrative. Sure, a suicidal protagonist isn't going to be cheery but Colin Firth pulls it off nicely in A Single Man, showing a man who is clearly lonely and consumed by grief but doesn't wallow in his own misery.

Equally as boring is the flashbacks to his wife, which serve to make the whole affair even more gloomy and weepy. It's completely unnecessary to show his wife and it slows down the only narrative which actually has some potential: Max's boyhood.

These days were happy days so everything is artificially sunny. Dillon does a good job as the charming boy with a crush and Missy Keating as the family's daughter, is cruel and flirtatious. The film nicely shows Max's budding sexual desires without being coy or tasteless. Another nice touch is how the affairs of Carlo and Connie are seen through the boy's eyes. He can only partially comprehend them; actually with Connie's he can barely comprehend it, so we only get a glimpse. The parents are written as charicaturish bohemians, particularly Carlo, so whilst Rufus Sewell doesn't really add any deeper layers, he is not entirely to blame for his performance.

I don't know why the duller modern story is made to take precedence over the much more interesting (if perhaps well-trodden ground) past. None of the narratives really string together; there's a sense of faux-mystery throughout, with the underlying sense that the constant meandering and 'leisurely' pace won't come together into anything satisfying. The end 'twist' is not really a surprise; the surprise is that it is presented as a surprise. And the conclusion of the childhood narrative comes out of nowhere and has no apparent motivation.

Lack of motivation is present in all of the characters; a fault of John Banville's screenplay. He is adapting his own novel so it's odd that the writing should be so weak. It feels as if he copy-pasted the small percentage of dialogue in his novel and left it at that, without translating the prose into cinematic terms. Relationships aren't fleshed out; nothing is mined beyond the surface. We are told that Max is writing a book on Pierre Bonhard but we never see anything relating to that so the detail feels pointless. Max's daughter wanders in pointlessly to tell her dad to stop being gloomy and alcoholic; not that he's going to listen to that.

This is really a melodramatic weepy masquerading as an art film about grief and memory. If you're searching for the latter, try A Single Man; try Atonement if you're looking for an exploration of sexuality through a child's eyes. Brideshead Revisited (the TV series; avoid the film) is a great story of an individual being lured by an eccentric and luxurious family. Summer Interlude is a charming and poetic study of idyllic childhood shattered by tragedy. These are only a handful of films similar to The Sea and yet superior.

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