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MOVIES (LFF 2022): The Whale - Review

Two movies aired at this year's London Film Festival that are similiar in more ways than you'd expect, The Son and The Whale; but whilst The Son is entirely cynical and cruel, I feel like The Whale is smart enough to avoid the traps that the former fell into and creates a fantastic showcase for its leading stars.

It's very much an actor's movie - Darren Aronofsky gives us arguably his most conventional film of his career especially after the divisive 2017 mother! which I admittedly quite liked. Here Aronofsky plays to the strengths of Brendan Fraser; who in a career best turn, delivers arguably the best lead performance of the year so far - out-acting the competition - but it's not just Fraser, Sadie Sink shines in a very Sadie Sink-type performance; not far removed from Stranger Things' Max. Samantha Morton owns the screen in the smallest of roles - appearing on screen for one of the most devastating of scenes in the entire film - a reminder of to just how good she is. But whilst Fraser is the star, obviously - Hong Chau puts in a blackly comic turn that gives the movie some more humorous touches where it needs it the most.

The makeup and set-design really crafts a life into the apartment that Fraser's Charlie lives in. Whilst there are some body horror moments that lean uncomfortably into the "fatphobia" allegations; The Whale does largely swerve the obvious traps it could have fallen into - focusing more on the allegory for Moby Dick for its title, not as tone-deaf or as manipulative as The Son but earnest with a lot of heart in its characters. Ty Simpkins' wayward missionary gets depth added to his character that most of the cast would not in another film - Aronofsky treats this film like a stage-play, giving each character turns to waltz into the apartment which is the sole location for this film and confess their stories. A clever use of absolving truth and sins but not willing to favour a righteous religion is played well here, and the film deals with all its strong, hard hitting themes remarkably well.

What sets The Whale back from being a masterpiece is that sometimes it can be a bit too simple at times; and the over-reliance on dialogue and performance lends this to almost making me think this would've been better *as a play* and its influences of its source material clear as day - the creative visual flair is kept to a minimum. The Wrestler is the high bar to beat - and The Whale never quite gets there - but as an actor's showcase it's second to none.


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