One of the most famous literary works ever written, Moby Dick, told the struggles of a Sea Captain named Ahab, who becomes obsessed with a white whale that took his leg on a previous voyage. The novel, which is almost one hundred and seventy-five years old, is the backbone intertwined with playwright/screenwriter, Samuel D. Hunter's 2012 story titled, The Whale. Starring Brendan Fraser (The Mummy), it is one human's quest for redemption from his estranged daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink; Stranger Things), who he all but abandoned eight years prior. If Ellie's anger at having her father amputated from her life is any indication, she is the angry, spiteful captain trying to destroy that elusive whale.
Charlie (Fraser) is a morbidly overweight college professor who teaches online classes (with his camera turned off so his students can't see him) because he is unable to leave his home. As his health worsens he contacts Ellie, who comes over to see him at Charlie's request, spewing hatred every chance she gets. Desperate, Charlie bribes Ellie to come to visit him by offering her money and to rewrite her essay for school. Though the encounters are emotionally painful, they are cathartic as well.
Meanwhile, Thomas (Ty Simpkins; Jurassic World), a young, Christian, missionary, discovers Charlie and decides it is his quest to help Charlie find the word of God. Liz (Hong Chau; The Menu), Charlie's only friend, despises Thomas because she was adopted by the preacher of the church where Thomas worships and blames her brother's suicide on the church. Liz, whose brother was Charlie's partner, works in the medical field so she takes care of Charlie, who can't do much on his own anymore. With every visit from Ellie, Thomas, and Liz, Charlie becomes more desperate to connect with Ellie, while everything around him spirals out of control.
Two words - Brendan Fraser. He was born to play Charlie and his Oscar award is extremely well deserved. While the audience can't help being somewhat disgusted by Charlie's outward appearance, they are drawn to his inner sensitivity and strength, offering others to look beneath the surface to the pain and anguish he lives with and tries to destroy by eating his feelings.
Sink is an up-and-coming talent and she portrays Ellie well; torn between her anger and hurt feelings to try and understand Charlie. Hong Chau had two terrific performances last year, in The Whale and The Menu. She is establishing herself as an actor to watch and she adds a formidable presence in this small, ensemble cast. Director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) manages to make a small apartment and an even smaller living room seem larger than they are while keeping the viewer acutely aware of how large Charlie's body is.
The combo pack includes the Blu-ray disc and digital download and is presented in 1080p resolution with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The picture is sharp but intentionally dark as the subject matter isn't cheerful and upbeat at any point. There are also several days that include heavy downpours which would keep the small apartment fairly dark. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is solid with ambient noise (i.e. the rain) coming from all of the speakers. Dialog is crisp and clean. The disc also offers minimal extras - two to be exact - with the first talking about the characters and the set and the second looking at the music. Neither are terribly exciting but had they been left out, people would be even more upset by a Blu-ray release without ANY extras.
Aronofsky is known for making dark and serious films and The Whale fits the bill perfectly. The screenplay could have used a second set of eyes to add more of a punch to the dialogue but the talented cast works with what they had and makes the story more interesting.
The Whale is not an easy movie to watch but it is poignant and eye-opening which leaves the audience touched and uncomfortable all at once. The ending also leaves much to be desired.
Grade: B- for the film and A+++++ for Fraser.