The Sea review: the sands of time are dun-colored

The Sea red light

Ciarán Hinds engages in some pointlessly dour Irish brooding at the beach.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Ciarán Hinds saw something nasty in the woodshed. Well, at the seaside, actually, but same difference. And now his Max Morden has returned to the sleepy Irish village where he used to spend his childhood summers to revisit that nasty thing. Or something. “You live in the past,” his dead wife (Sinéad Cusack: Wrath of the Titans) accuses him from a memory-flashback of her last fatally ill days, which should feel ironic, perhaps, but doesn’t. Maybe because we never get any authentic sense of how Max (Hinds: Closed Circuit) is living in the past, how the nasty thing he saw in the woodshed has had any impact on his life since. See, back in the 1950s, when young Max (Matthew Dillon) was a poor townie, he befriended the bohemian Grace family, two twins his age, their nanny (Bonnie Wright: After the Dark), and free-spirits Connie (Natascha McElhone: Ladies in Lavender) — on whom Max developed a crush, naturally — and Carlo (Rufus Sewell: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). The story, or what passes for it, bounces back and forth between the present day, where older Max is staying at a B&B run by Charlotte Rampling (I, Anna), and the utterly banal summer days younger Max spent with the Graces. Clearly, first-time director Stephen Brown believes a sense of ominous anxiety — to call it “suspense” would be a stretch — is building, but toward what? The most I found myself wondering was whether Max’s late wife or Rampling’s hotelier was going to turn out to be the Grace daughter or the nanny all grown up, not that that turns out to have any bearing on anything. But then the 1950s sequences catch up to the something nasty that happened… and it is so out of the blue, and not a thing that happens so regularly in reality that we can even guess at what drove it, that it needs a lot more support from the story to be even remotely plausible. And yet, even this ridiculous thing matters not, because we have no idea how it connects to the present, beyond the vaguest of conclusions, drawn from our own experiences as human beings and not from anything we see on the screen, that bad stuff lingers in the memory. This is based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by John Banville, and I can only conclude that something contained therein did not survive the transition to the screen (though Banville himself adapted it). This is nothing but dour Irish brooding, and not even of the romantically melancholy kind.

The Sea by John Banville [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

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