Thursday, 24 April 2014

REVIEW - THE SEA (STEPHEN BROWN)


A good story becomes great in the telling. Which is why so few great books make great films. It's not a viable move for a director to let their source do the heavy lifting once it hits the screen, since now one's imagination must be constricted to what these specific sounds and images are expressing, and, worse still, now we can compare back to the book. John Banville nixes the fluidity of his novel's narrative structure for a more stringent sense of linearity, by and large, positioning The Sea strictly as a story of the now, and how the past can haunt it, or devastate it, when mishandled. After all, the past was once the now, and the now will forever more be the past. A shame, since the sequences he styles as flashbacks are more compelling than the contemporary ones - there's meat on their bones, which Banville and director Stephen Brown cannot ignore, whereas portions of the film set more recently must strive for atmosphere that Brown isn't quite competent at composing. They rely on these extended flashbacks, in that sense, but are also necessary themselves in fashioning a purpose for their antecedents. What does work in the otherwise pat modern-set scenes are those driven by Sinead Cusack's tart yet graceful performance as the wife of Ciaran Hinds' art writer, who could have been defined even more sharply as a selfish, embittered soul, were his director not a bit too cautious to court more emotional complexity. In, by nature, having to jettison much of the novel's detail, The Sea falls foul to the same melodramatic simplification that so many adaptations do, and becomes coffee-table cinema, handsomely mounted but hollow, which is a deep disappointment. And that's not compared to the book (I haven't read it, gosh, imagine!): that's compared to itself. The burnished-hued flashbacks are powerful purely for being a good story, with a potent allegory that Brown is thankfully more restrained in hammering home than he is with his other narrative material. Thus, just as a good story becomes great in the telling, so too does this one become mediocre.