Icelandic Director Baltasar Kormakur’s (Contraband, Jar City) latest drama, ‘The Deep’ is an intense survival-at-sea tale. This is an incredible story about “man against nature.” It is no secret that being a fisherman is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Iceland is a Nordic European island country whose economy depends heavily on the fishing industry. This gritty movie is shortlisted as an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a well-deserved accolade. As the film opens, the first thing that strikes you is the harsh environment of Iceland’s cold climate and jagged landscapes. This is a well-crafted story from a very stylish filmmaker.
The story takes place off one of Iceland’s volcanic fishing villages in 1984. The scene is at a rowdy bar full of drunken revelers consisting of townsfolk and fisherman. This is our introduction to the crew of the fishing boat the “Breki.” There is a hulky figure of a man named Gulli (Olafur Darri Olafsson) drinking and smoking with his fellow seamen. There is even a barroom brawl that is taken outside. The irony of this scene is that the ferocious cold weather is more intimidating than the fight itself. This happens to be the eve before the crew sets off on a routine fishing expedition.
Kormakur’s story is well-paced. Early morning comes quickly and the fishermen are still hung-over from last night’s libations. The ragtag crew has done this before. They settle into their assigned duties with little fanfare. They are more concerned about the strength of the coffee and what movie videos are available to pass the time. The newly hired cook adapts fast to the hungry fishing crew’s demands. When one fisherman asks what’s for dinner, the cook says sweat-and-sour pork. The fisherman barks back make it breaded pork chops. Kormakur sets the right tone for things to come.
The film wastes no time. When the crew casts its large fishing nets overboard, it gets caught on some rocks. All of a sudden, the fishing vessel is turned on its side and minutes later it capsizes. It happens so fast, the crew has no time to reach for life vests. They are hanging on for dear life to the hull of the boat. It is a dramatic scene. The water is cold… bone-chilling cold. Some of the crewmembers along with Gulli soon realize that their only hope is to swim back to shore. It doesn’t take long for Gulli’s shipmate and childhood friend, Palli (Johann G. Johannsson) to succumb to the cold water. Before he knows it, Gulli is the sole survivor.
Alone, Gulli begins to swim for his life. Along the way, he talks to a seagull that hovers over his head. The bird seems to help him deal with the harrowing ordeal. He also makes a deal with God to give him just one more day so he can ride that motorcycle he has been saving up for and to say goodbye to loved ones. It is a touching scene. When Gulli astonishingly makes it back to shore, he still faces a barefoot walk along jagged volcanic rock that shreds his feet. Kormakur shows Gulli’s return home. When a nurse tells him he is like a national hero, Gulli is humble and doesn’t understand why since he only saved himself.
Kormakur has crafted an engaging story that takes advantage of Iceland’s beautiful and harsh scenery. My only grievance is that I would have liked to see Gulli deal more with life after the accident. It would have been interesting to explore the relationship between him and Palli’s widow Halla. Possibly having the two bond more after the tragedy. Nevertheless, this is a well-paced and dramatic film that deserves an Oscar nod. ‘The Deep’ will open in 2013 through Focus Features’ alternative distribution label Focus World http://focusfeatures.com/focusworld.