Starring: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, and Ty Simpkins
Director: Darren Aronofsky
“And the Oscar goes to…” After watching The Whale, there is little doubt that sentence will end with the name Brendan Fraser. It's not just about how good his performance is, it's the fact that it feels like no one else would have been able to do it better. Credit to director Darren Aronofsky, who once again shows he is one of the best directors to resurrect a career. What he and Fraser have made (along with the terrific supporting cast) is a film deserving of the hype it has garnered, and one that confirms Brendan Fraser is back and potentially better than ever.
For multiple reasons, I was extremely skeptical about The Whale. The hype-machine for Brendan Fraser, a good-but-never-great actor, has been deafening, and director Darren Aronofsky can be very hit (The Wrestler) and very miss (The Fountain). So, imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of the best movies I saw at TIFF. Under the prosthetics, Fraser’s soulful eyes and humanistic performance sell an emotional tale that I’m unashamed to say made me misty-eyed. Admittedly, one subplot seems extraneous, and Sadie Sink goes a little too hard as the cold-hearted daughter, but, overall, this movie (and Fraser) deserves all the love it’s getting.
The Whale is an absolute slam dunk. Director Darren Aronofsky is at his most human here, trading the flat-out insanity of his last film, Mother!, for a more calm and heartbreaking story. But the real headline here is, of course, Brendan Fraser. What he brings to the screen is genuinely breathtaking, especially in the final 20 minutes, which I consider all-timer levels of fantastic. It’s a true comeback performance if there ever was one, and while The Whale is worth watching for Fraser alone, the overall film is an electric gut-punch in its own right.
Director Darren Aronofsky returns to familiar ground with his latest film The Whale, once again touching on grief, addiction, and the struggle within oneself. Most of the attention directed towards the film has been, rightfully so, on its star Brendan Fraser. While Aronofsky sets the table in this one-location film, it's Fraser who elevates the material in almost every way. That said, the story didn't completely work for me, and Sadie Sink seemed overmatched by Fraser in almost every scene. It’s a perfect example of a movie you see for the performances rather than the story.
The Whale is a gripping look at the honesty of the uncomfortable, be it anger, shame, sarcasm, or humor. The gamut of emotions that we as humans push down for fear of embarrassment is pushed to the forefront through the captivating chemistry of a brilliant ensemble. All four leads (Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins) give rousing performances, but it’s the sincere dialogue amidst clashing personalities that brings affecting humanity to a very difficult script. Fraser’s performance, in particular, is career-defining in this harrowing, hopeful, and human demonstration of how life can be beautiful in its devastation.
Perhaps the director’s true intentions simply didn’t translate to screen, but it’s hard to watch Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale and not come away feeling anything but cynical about the whole exercise. Brendan Fraser turns in a comeback performance worthy of admiration, and Hong Chau nearly steals yet another film, but the movie itself doesn’t seem to have empathy for its protagonist, only pity. Still, despite the film’s refusal to allow Fraser any actual agency for most of the runtime, those final minutes do strike an emotional chord, and the ending – while abrupt – does feel appropriate for the overall tone.
This film was reviewed by Nick, Quentin, and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.