Amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst's (Colin Firth) disastrous attempt to win the 1968 Golden Globe Race ends up with him creating an outrageous account of sailing around the world alone. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
I am fascinated by the extraordinary, true story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, whose quest for fame and fortune surprised and shocked everyone in the late 60s by his 'sin of concealment'. It is a bizarre story with many elements, but clearly posed a challenge to the filmmakers, who must have struggled in deciding how best to tell it - probably for commercial reasons.
With its meticulous production design and A-list cast, Man of Wire (2008) director James Marsh's film engages from the get-go, but it could have been a far grittier and more satisfying experience. In short, Scott Burns' screenplay hedges its bets as it juggles the elements of its protagonist's hazardous journey (physical and mental) and his relationship with the loving family he leaves behind. As a result, the film plays out softer than it otherwise might. I longed for a much darker experience exploring Crowhurst's state of mind and mental anguish as he flounders on the precarious ups and downs of the ocean's waves, a mirror for his life as he takes his dreams out to sea.
When the film begins, we glimpse into Crowhurst's reality: a happy family life in the misty seaside town of Teignmouth and the financial challenges of trying to market his directional finder invention for sailors. It is the prize money offered in the inaugural Golden Globe sailing race that propels him into action and commit for an event that is beyond his capabilities. The film attempts to convey the weekend sailor's angst as he finds himself out of his depth - when everything is wet, the noise of the wind is deafening and every day becomes a crossroad ('God plays with one set of rules and the Devil plays with another'). But Crowhurst's disintegration into madness and the exploration of the key psychological aspects are not adequately conveyed.
As always, Colin Firth is a likeable onscreen presence but he fails to capture the dark world into which Crowhurst enters. The screenplay is to blame rather than Firth - although some might argue the Oscar winning actor of The King's Speech is miscast. By concentrating on the poetic and personal elements of his relationship with his wife Clare (Rachel Weisz, lovely), the film's emphasis is highlighted elsewhere. Watch for the scene when a single tear appears in the corner of Firth's eye when his imagined vision of Weisz slips from his grasp. It is one of the film's most moving moments. David Thewlis is well cast as the opportunist press agent.
Visually stunning, Into the Wild (2007) cinematographer Eric Gautier offers contrasting soft and crisp palettes and The Theory of Everything (2014) composer Johann Johannsson envelops us in his musical notes of claustrophobic, repetitive phrases. The story haunts. The film leaves us wanting.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's 50 years this year (2018) since amateur English sailor Donald Crowhurst made history in all the worst possible ways. The story is both intriguing and tragic, a compression of human behaviour that combines the best and the weakest of our natures. He wanted to win the cash prize in the Golden Globe single handed sailing event to save his business and his house, supporting his family. He was miserably under qualified to attempt the task. He cheated. He failed. He lost his sanity. He died.
Scott Z. Burns' screenplay fails to show us the degeneration of the man's faculties, which is the most poignant aspect of the story and the usually brilliant director James Marsh (Man on Wire, The Theory of everything), ends up making an inauthentic film with too much sentiment pouring onto his subject. Then there is the misjudgement of casting Colin Firth as Crowhurst. Firth commands our interest and sympathy, but the characterisation is too off-beam to ring true.
Rachel Weisz is likeable as his wife, but too vanilla to make an impression or make us care beyond surface sympathies.
For all its flaws, The Mercy is still a worthwhile film, fascinating and technically well made. Sadly, it is composer Johann Johansson's last (and fine) score before his untimely death in February 2018 at the age of 48. He also composed the score for Marsh's The Theory of Everything.
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MERCY, THE (M)
CAST: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Jonathan Bailey, Sebastian Armesto, Adrian Schiller, Genevieve Gaunt, Eleanor Stagg
PRODUCER: Graham Broadbent, Scott Z. Burns, Peter Czernin, Nicolas Mauvernay, Jacques Perrin
DIRECTOR: James Marsh
SCRIPT: Scott Z. Burns
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier
EDITOR: Jinx Godfrey
MUSIC: J—hann J—hansson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jon Henson
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: eOne
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 8, 2018