Wednesday, 31 August 2016


Gus van Sant has never been a filmmaker with much to say. His  impressionistic portraits of counter-culture and his formalistic experimentation, though they may possess artistic value, possess very little intellectual value; to say nothing of his sentimental Oscar bait. Or not, since this is precisely what The Sea of Trees amounts to; unlike the director, I have rather a lot to say. And little of it should indicate that this film possesses any value beyond satisfying one's curiosity. How could van Sant abandon his vibrant, valid, distinctive sensibilities and descend to the maudlin depths of Chris Sparling's vacuous, senseless screenplay? A surfeit of vetting ought to be instigated any time a filmmaker embarks upon smothering our cinema screens with so much sap - what does the film offer for our emotional investment? The Sea of Trees offers virtually nothing: tedious scenes of Matthew McConaughey and Watanabe Ken trudging through the forest for no deducible purpose, soapy flashbacks of McConaughey and Naomi Watts grinding through trite scenes of domestic disharmony, and so many blatant attempts to wring tears from our eyes you'd be tempted to gouge them out in contempt were those attempts not so unsuccessful. It then offers one twist on another, the first of which is so obvious you'll resent the film for thinking you so gullible, the second of which is so implausible that your resentment will be replaced by mirth and astonishment; the first time the film has elicited anything close to either response. Neither twist makes sense, complicating a simple story with unanswerable questions, rather than resolving plot holes and suggesting new perspectives. While sporadically touching, well-acted, and the beneficiary of some fine imagery, The Sea of Trees is also derivative and unwittingly racist. And in spelling every single thing out, it makes only one thing clear: it's the van Sant films where his characters have the most to say where he has the least.