Opening with the crashing sounds of the waves over the credits followed by a distraught looking Ciaran Hinds collapsing on the shore, Stephen Brown’s intriguingly titled The Sea promises to be a haunting look at a troubled man’s past. Unfortunately that isn’t the case.
This lethargic and boring drama focuses on a middle-aged man named Max (Hinds) who returns to the seaside town where he used to go on holiday with his family. Once there and settled into a large country hotel, Max wanders around the town which triggers vivid memories of both his time playing with the children of another family that ended in tragedy and the slow death of his wife.
It plays out like a painfully dull, uninteresting version of Whistle and I’ll Come To You sans the ghosts, where we watch Hinds’ art historian endlessly stare into space and out to sea reflecting on his past. This is presented to the audience as awful, heavy-handed flashbacks that look like the colour filter has been turned up far too high by accident.
Contained within these flashbacks is an insufferable performance by Rufus Sewell, looking for all the world like a young Ian McShane in bad clothes as he jabbers on with different voices to try and placate his kids. It’s never really made clear what the ins and outs of his family’s story has to do with Max’s other than the tragedy in which it culminates. Themes of devotion, adolescence and sexual curiosity are glossed over as it feels the need to repeatedly jump back and forth between past and present.
The terrible editing makes the whole thing feel irritatingly disjointed, as scenes are either cut away from too quickly, faded out or stitched to another scene with hokey shots of the eponymous sea. The dialogue is clunky and unrealistic, with characters spouting exposition in a way that insults the audience’s intelligence, desperately trying to conjure meaning that just isn’t there. There’s some great actors involved including Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, Sinead Cusack and Natascha McElhone but they are ill-served by a clumsy and sometimes unintentionally funny script.
What could have been a fascinating and melancholic look at memory, regret and loss is actually a boring and monotonous character drama. It’s a shame since there are some good performances (particularly from Hinds who does his best with a nothing role) and an eerie soundtrack, both of which deserve a better film. A pretentious mess that’s a chore to sit through.