Brendan Fraser and Darren Aronofsky bring to life a movie full of empathy and love in The Whale which is one of the best films with a stellar cast that is set in one location. There's nothing else like this. The 1080p HD transfer looks wonderful and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio track sounds amazing. The extras aren't much, but they are worth watching. Highly Recommended!
Confronting the past and all the mistakes that come with making decisions along the way is what Charlie is faced with in Darren Aronofsky's The Whale. Dealing with grief, loss, and empathy for others are the key ingredients that make The Whale swim beautifully. With a claustrophobic setting, some amazing camerawork, and the best performance of the year from the legendary (and now Oscar-winner) Brendan Fraser, The Whale is one of the sweetest and most emotional movies of the year.
Aronofsky sure has a way of drawing an intimate portrait of a tragic character who everyone grows to love, whether it be a mother living through a chaotic weekend, a curious ballerina dancer, friends with addiction, or even an aging pro wrestler. The way Aronofsky utilizes his camera in following these personalities around while giving them some poignant dialogue is unmatched and provides an escape into hellscapes and paradises through the eyes of each of his characters in their own heightened world. With The Whale, Fraser plays a man named Charlie, a lonely English professor for an online university who weighs in at almost 600 pounds. Charlie is not the picture of health and is nearing death from his bad habits and obesity by the second, but that doesn't stop him from wanting the best out of people, including his students, or his friend/nurse Liz (Hong Chau from The Menu), who comes to check on him.
By setting the movie all in one location inside Charlie's small apartment in Idaho and shooting the film in full frame, Aronofsky, and frequent collaborator cinematographer Matthew Libatique hone in on the size of Charlie and how trapped inside his own psyche and physical setting he is. It could be an inside joke to not film the movie in widescreen, but there's more to this unusual but much-welcomed aspect ratio, as Charlie is trying to break through those black bars to get through to the one person who means the most to him - his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink). And it's not that Charlie has a difficult time connecting with anyone. On the contrary, strangers who enter his life such as a young missionary (Ty Simpkins), a pizza delivery guy, and even his ex-wife find something to love about Charlie, despite his situation.
When Charlie and Ellie start spending time together for the first time in years, it's displayed that there is still a ton of animosity between Ellie towards her father. Through Samuel D. Hunter's script based on his 2013 stage play, little nuggets of truth about Charlie's grief and decisions over the past several years come to light. Through the course of the film, the story highlights his intense struggle with his health and desire to make up for past demons. It's not all sunshine and roses with beautiful swells of music and large embraces, but rather vomiting from binge eating, severe heart palpitations, and tears of extreme sadness. But there are also flashes of great humanity and love between a daughter and a father that can never be unbroken, no matter how painful the outcome will be, which is where Melville's Moby Dick has some great tie-ins about pain, sadness, and the beauty of something unexpected.
Every actor here turns in an amazing performance. Chau is wonderfully blunt and sweet at the same time and is grieving in her own way. Sink continues to impress with her range of emotions from anger to empathy in her dry, mean wit conversing with her dad. She's simply amazing. But it's Fraser's performance that is on another level completely. Brendan Fraser is not seen here. It's the full character of Charlie that's on-screen at all times. Fraser's physical performance and nuanced movements of somebody in this dire situation are unbelievably tremendous and his delivery of every line is spot on with the right amount of positivity and loss. It's a marvel to watch. The Whale is one of the best films of the year and will enhance every emotion in the human body.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Whale swims its way to Blu-ray + Digital Code via A24 and Lionsgate. The one disc is housed inside a hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve. The artwork is the poster from the movie with Brendan's face on the covers. There is a yellow sticker advertising its Oscar nominations. There is an insert for a digital code inside.
The Whale comes with a great 1080p HD transfer that immediately sets the tone. The film's visuals are not meant to be bright or even made to live in a bubble-gum world of action and fantasy.
The color palette is rather muted and sour with a ton of low levels of green, browns, off-whites, and darker blues. The stellar spark of red in Sadie's hair is a welcome color addition that brings a sense of warmth to it. Black levels are inky without any crush in the dark hallway or the second bedroom where the lights don't work. The movie was shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio so the side black bars will be visible as if this were made for tube televisions.
The detail looks stunning, even with the dark color spectrum on display. The individual hairs and beads of sweat are distinguishable on Brendan's face. The back hairs and folds of fat look wonderful. The grime and textures on the couch, his clothing, and leather-bound books are fantastic as well. The skin tones are natural as well. This is not a flashy film, visually speaking, but within its own universe, it looks wonderful. There are no major video issues.
This release comes with an amazing DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix that almost plays a character in the film. The sound effects of Charlie eating pizza, crispy fried chicken, grape jelly, and crunchy chips are all natural and enhanced to sting the senses. Other sound effects of a wheelchair rolling around, birds chirping, and pages turning sound fantastic. The low end of the bass comes in when Charlie walks around and falls down in his couch cushions.
The impressive score always adds to the tension and sadness of each character's emotions with some wonderful bass notes that gives a nice rumble to the soundscape. Ambient noises in the surround speakers bring to life the rain, thunder, and Charlie's movements around the house. The dialogue is crisp, clear, and easy to follow. There are no audio problems to speak of.
There are only two bonus features totaling about 33 minutes of time. The guess is that there will be another big release down the road and the studios are saving or making new extras for that release. But these two segments are worth watching.
The Whale is just hands down one of the best films to watch that takes everyone on an emotional journey full of empathy and confronting past mistakes in a loving way. Brendan Fraser is just dynamite as is everyone else in the movie. The 1080p HD transfer looks very good and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix sounds wonderful. The two bouns features are worth watching. This is Highly Recommended.