Movie Review: The vast sea and burning sun are the enemies in “Against the Sun”

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Three downed Navy airmen stuck on a raft in the middle of the Pacific in World War II for weeks on end. It’s a familiar movie narrative, at least in part, because it happened more than once, even happened to a future president (George H.W. Bush) and happened to the hero of “Unbroken.”
“Against the Sun” doesn’t reinvent this mini genre, with its yellow life raft, men slowly starving, sun-blistering and dying of thirst. But its light moments, pallid highs and emotional lows show how this sort of movie is supposed to work. It sometimes moves us, where the admittedly more arduous ordeal of Louis “Unbroken” Zamperini failed to move, at least on the big screen.
Garret Dillahunt of TV’s “Justified” stars in this low budget “true story,” playing the torpedo bomber pilot who got lost in those pre-GPS days of early 1942. The Chief, his Ohio bombardier (Tom Felton, Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy) and the frustrated Missouri radioman (Jake Abel of “The Host”) drop into the sea. They have time to prepare, gather gear they’ll need.
But much of that gear goes down with the rapidly-sinking plane. And they have no idea where they are.
The life raft becomes a crucible for conflict, starting with recriminations. The ad hoc crew blames the confused pilot, the Chief vainly re-establishes the chain of command, and lashes out at the radioman. And every single step they must take to survive is shown in all its difficulty. Just flipping the raft over the middle of a steep swell is excruciating.
“We’ve got procedures for this,” they reassure one another about their chance of rescue. “Come early mornin’, they’ll be on us like an old houn’dog.”
That’s never the case. Next thing you know it’s “SHARKS!” and “Do they have hurricanes in the Pacific?”

“Affirmative.”

“Why do I keep asking these questions?”

Director Brian Falk and cinematographer Petr Cikhart wash out the colors with the sun, limiting our field of view to that of the crew. The story the film tells crosses the same bridges most such stories traverse — hallucinations, that first desperate rain shower, fishing for food, sharks. The last of those is rather too-obviously faked.
But the players never let on that they didn’t have an “Unbroken” budget, with Dillahunt nicely interpreting the Chief’s journey from blame to acceptance, and Felton suffering like he means it. Abel does well playing the defiant one, ready to join in the class war his officer/pilot seems to want to start.
However, much of the edge is rubbed off these potential conflicts. And noble as this struggle was, it’s still an overly-familiar one, as far as the movies go. Still, even with its digital bomber crash and phony sharks, “Against the Sun” lets us put ourselves in the place of these three, something “Unbroken” never managed. The simple, myopic setting and uncluttered story help.2stars1

MPAA Rating:  PG for thematic material involving peril and hardships, and for language

Cast: Tom Felton, Jake Abel, Garret Dillahunt

Credits: Directed by Brian Falk, screenplay by Mark David Keegan and Brian Falk. An American Film Company release.

Running time: 1:39

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