JDIFF 2013 Review – The Deep

When his fishing vessel capsizes three miles out to sea, and all of his shipmates drown, Gulli (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) swims for shore, desperate to survive.

The Deep sounds a little like The Perfect Storm, but this is so much more than a shipwreck movie. Based on a true story, it is the aftermath of Gulli’s swim and his status as national hero that proves the most interesting.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson creates Gulli as a normal man with normal aspirations. When the ship goes down, however, Gulli proves that he is more than ordinary. Olafsson plays Gulli as an everyman who does something extraordinary, and through the flashbacks and future hopes that pepper his epic swim, we learn more about the character who has such a tenacious grip on life. It is when he is being tested to find out why he survived for so long in freezing water that Olafsson allows Gulli to show his true self; instead of basking in the praise that is heaped on him, he hides from it – for the most part – and while he does almost everything that he says he will if he survives, he still cannot get the courage to talk to the girl that he likes. There is something of a John C. Reilly character about Olafsson’s performance, and this everyman feeling is why the performance works so well.

After the success of Contraband, director Baltasar Kormákur has returned to his native land and language with The Deep. The film could easily have turned into a by the numbers survival story, but the choice to show Gulli’s memories in flashback – beautifully filmed to look vintage – adds another level to the character, as well as the audience’s understanding. The juxtaposition of the volcanic eruption that colours Gulli’s memories, with the freezing sea he finds himself in works beautifully, both thematically and visually. The film takes a turn that the audience does not expect, Kormákur keeps the pace going at a nice rate, while allowing us to see more of the character and showcasing some beautiful cinematography.

The Deep is a disaster film on a small scale that encompasses a tale of an average man thrust into an extraordinary situation. Director Baltasar Kormákur creates an intricate and relatable story and the strong and warm performance from Olafsson at the centre of the film makes it all the more engaging.

Rating: 4/5

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