REVIEW: ‘The Whale’ is 2022’s hardest hitting drama

With help from talented director Darren Aronofsky, Brendan Fraser makes a hell of a comeback with a new, major starring role.

Based on a stage play with the same name, “The Whale” tells the story of Charlie (Fraser), an obese, reclusive, disabled man residing in Idaho. He lives in a depressed state, having gained weight after the death of his partner, and has an estranged relationship with his daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink).

He gets an opportunity to reconnect with Ellie, though, when she visits Charlie, wanting assistance with her homework. A college English instructor, Charlie decides to help her with essays with the hope that he can reconnect with his daughter, especially with his declining health.

“The Whale” is probably one of the hardest films to watch from 2022. Not only does Charlie suffer from depression over the loss of a loved one and the deterioration of his relationship with his daughter, his physical condition has gotten progressively worse.

It’s difficult as a viewer to see the protagonist go through his many hardships, especially as an audience gets to know him. Charlie is a kind, caring person, showing immense regret about not having a better connection with his daughter.

He believes in the goodness of people. As a teacher, he knows his students have potential and encourages them to be honest with what they write. He is also a man of literature, appreciating the art form and finding meaning in it.

WhaleBlog
Courtesy The Whale.

It’s a complex character study of a good man who’s made some serious mistakes, trying one last time to do something right before he passes. It’s a deeply moving experience.  Your heart breaks for Charlie when he experiences difficulties and you can only feel flickers of hope when he gets closer to making a breakthrough with his daughter.

It really helps that the film boasts the best acting featured in a movie released in 2022. The dramatic scenes in this film are absolutely phenomenal thanks to stunning performances by the cast.

Fraser of course deserves the most praise for an incredibly touching portrayal. Charlie’s depression, anger at himself, caring nature and passion about writing is all brought to the screen in great detail thanks to Fraser. His work is definitely award worthy, but that praise isn’t limited to him.

The ensemble is great. Sadie Sink gives an intense performance as a troubled teenager whose anger is driven by her father divorcing her mother to be with his lover. Ty Simpkins is also strong as a missionary who initially appears as just a normal door knocker, but shows more depth as time goes on.

HongChau

The person nearly stealing the show entirely, though, is Hong Chau. She does amazing acting work as Charle’s friend and caretaker Liz. She convincingly captures her character’s sadness over how Charlie has declined mentally and physically, as well as her dedication to still being there for a friend.

It’s just another movie that proves Chau is a great talent and deserves a leading role in a picture.

The only area that is a bit hit or miss were some of the artistic moves by Aronofsky and the crew. While it’s based on a play, the film never feels contained or claustrophobic, even when it takes place in just one apartment. Enough is done visually to keep it from feeling too stagey.

However, the score seemed excessive at points when the film showed Charlie struggling with his weight, and the creative decisions for the ending were a bit questionable. These are very minor issues, though, as things work well enough, they just arguably could have been done slightly differently.

Overall, “The Whale” is an engrossing experience from start to finish. Every dramatic moment and each character interaction has so much depth to it. The acting is sensational, the writing is layered and the film is well crafted thanks to strong make-up/prosthetics and camera work. 5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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