The Whale is the film everyone was talking about during awards season, heralding the return to the big screen of Brendan Fraser. Garnering him an Oscar win for Best Actor, Fraser puts in a stellar performance and the film is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
The film follows Charlie (Fraser), a morbidly obese English teacher who tutors his students online with a ‘broken’ webcam. He lives alone and is a complete recluse, ordering pizza deliveries online and his only human contact is his friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau). One day while at home on his own, he begins to suffer pain in his chest and is saved by missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins), who arrives at Charlie’s home by chance and reads him an essay that calms him down.
Later Liz arrives and chastises Charlie for not wanting to go to a hospital. He insists he can’t afford it, despite being in the advanced stages of hypertension and congestive heart failure. The next day Charlie is visited by his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) whom he hasn’t seen in 8 years. He offers her the large amount of money in his bank account in exchange for her spending time with him, and she agrees if he promises to help her rewrite a school essay.
Over the course of a few days, Charlie is visited regularly by Thomas, Ellie and Liz as his health begins to decline rapidly. Missionary Thomas is determined to try and help Charlie while finding out more about his partner Alan who committed suicide and was also Liz’s brother. Ellie meanwhile continues to manipulate and be angry at her father, while Charlie himself wants to atone for his past mistakes before he dies.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, The Whale is based on a play by Samuel D Hunter and this is certainly apparent from the film’s staging, shot entirely in Charlie’s small apartment. It gives off a rather drab and claustrophobic feeling, although it’s certainly effective in portraying how hermitic and lonely Charlie’s life is. The cinematography and the overall feel of the film are very in keeping with the tone it’s trying to portray, but I do feel like the lack of colour becomes tiresome as the film moves towards the final act.
The Whale manages to do a lot with what is effectively a simple storyline, a heartwarming and often sad tale of a man struggling with his demons. The role of Thomas in Charlie’s story feels a little ineffective and underused, but otherwise watching Charlie’s interactions both in his personal relationships and his environment is incredibly engaging. Seeing Charlie struggle with his eating disorder, his mobility and his health is equally fascinating and heartwrenching, and his close friendship with Liz is especially sweet and heartwarming.
The star however of this film is undoubtedly Brendan Fraser. His comeback into the limelight has been much heralded and if this performance is anything to go by, it’s rightly so. Despite the layers of prosthetics, the charm and personality Fraser was known for in the 90s shines through here and he puts in an incredible performance as Charlie. He brings so much empathy to such a complex character and makes Charlie infinitely likeable, despite his many flaws. The Oscar win for this performance is absolutely justified.
A few small flaws aside, The Whale is a simple yet incredibly engaging film that is anchored by a spectacular performance by Brendan Fraser, the Best Actor Academy award certainly well deserved.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!