The sea will always capture the imagination. Even though we have since headed to space, there is still so much of it that we have never explored. And there is something romantic about being in the middle of the ocean, miles away from anywhere but able to go in any direction. Films have for the longest time enjoyed telling movies about people on boats but is The Mercy ready for the sea or should it have been left in the docks?
Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth, A Single Man) aims to be the first or quickest man to circumnavigate the globe singlehandedly on a yacht. However when it becomes apparent that he is far slower than the rest of the competition, he starts to lie about his position in the race to make sure he does not face financial ruin upon his return.
In many ways, this movie is a lot like 127 Hours. For a large part, you are with one person in a limited setting as they deal with the fact that they are most likely going to die. The sense of loneliness was much more pronounced in the former and you felt just as desperate as James Franco did in that film. Here, not so much. I think this is due to the fact that the family also plays a big role and the movie keeps cutting back to their ordeal to see what they are going through without Donald in their life. While I understand why this was done, making the family into characters and seeing the impact on them should give the film an extra emotional oomph, it does take away from the main and more interesting part of the movie.
Luckily the movie is anchored down by a brilliant Colin Firth performance. He is usually great I know but this is a real test as for 90% of the movie the only thing he can act off of is a sail and the waves. But he really steps up to the challenge. From the optimism that he starts the movie with to the despondence and depression he eventually falls into, Firth plays it all as brilliantly as you would expect. If it wasn’t for him, this movie would be a complete wash. Also I should take the time to praise Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) who is brilliant as his wife even though all she gets to do is worry or be happy. Not the widest ranging role but one that she does well.
The movie’s big theme is the one of pressure and what it can do to a person. But that never really translates to the audience. I’m not sure how you would make the audience feel the strain of the pressure that Donald does but this film does not manage it. You get that Donald has too much pride and worries too much about the consequences if he retires from the race but you still not quite sure he took the decision he did to cheat.
And because of that, the film isn’t that interesting. There’s enough to keep you going but only barely. You’ll often drift in and out of focus because there’s not much happening in the movie for long stretches. The first half of the movie is fairly dull because it’s basically a guy building a ship and there’s no real drama to the question ‘will he make it to sea?’ because we’ve all seen the trailers and know he will be doing. And yes we understand the family are going to have a hard time but I’ve seen that in a lot of films and there’s nothing new here that makes it any more interesting. There’s a lot of standard pieces which don’t add up to much.
Even with an interesting mystery story at its heart, it doesn’t really say anything particularly fascinating. It’s the movie about a man and his boat going on an adventure that goes badly wrong. But it never gets across how bad it’s getting to the audience in a way that hits home like it should. It lacks the emotional punch it needs to be memorable which is why you shouldn’t set sail for this movie.
Dir: James Marsh
Scr: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott
Prd: Graham Broadbent, Scott Z. Burns, Peter Czernin, Nicolas Mauvernay, Jacques Perrin
DOP: Eric Gautier
Music: Johann Johannson
Runtime: 101 mins
The Mercy is available on DVD and Blu-Ray now.