Title – The Sea of Trees (2015)
Director – Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting)
Cast – Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts
Plot – After the death of his wife Joan (Watts), American Arthur Brennan (McConaughey) flies to Japan to visit Aokigahara and take his life in the forest known as The Suicide Forest. But when Arthur runs into the suicidal Takumi Nakamura (Watanabe) his plans quickly change.
“Things are not what they seem here”
Review by Eddie on 15/09/2016
In what seems like a lifetime ago, way back in January of 2015 I called out The Sea of Trees as one of my years most anticipated films and I’m hoping if we’re all being honest that I wasn’t the only one to do so.
Hot off a streak of films that included The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club and sci-fi classic Interstellar, the prospect of new lease of life actor Matthew McConaughey and renowned director Gus Van Sant for a powerful sounding drama, we at the time new little factual details about, seemed like an appealing and likely moving film experience.
Fast forward to September of 2016 and Sea of Trees, unable to recover from a disastrous Cannes Film Festival premiere in 2015 In which the film became a laughing stock (and a filmed booed at its press screening) of media agencies and film fans the world over, has had a fanfare free release to mostly home video markets around the globe or in the case of America an embarrassing cinema release which has at the time of writing netted the film box office takings of $20,000 off a budget in excess of $30 million that will position the critically lambasted experience (Rotten Tomatoes rating of 10%) to become one of the years, and recent memories, biggest cinematic failings.
With all the talk and negativity surrounding this tale of McConaughey’s intellectually minded professor Arthur Brennan taking a suicidal sojourn to Japan’s suicide forest after the passing of his wife Joan (well played by Naomi Watts), only to find possible redemption after he runs into fellow suicidal Japanese businessman Takumi Nakamura (a disappointing Ken Watanabe), you’d be expecting Van Sant’s film to be a new aged The Room or Samurai Cop but while the film is clearly not even half the film it well could’ve been, Sea of Trees is not nearly as unwatchable as many would have you believe.
Filled with pretentiousness thanks to Buried screenwriter Chris Sparling’s script, Van Sant’s curiously unengaging direction (calling to mind his other recent misfire Restless) that veers frequently into Hallmark movie territory, one of cinemas most misguided musically scores thanks to composer Mason Bates and an overplayed and scene mugging McConaughey performance that fails to capture the form his developed over the last few years, Sea of Trees has many clearly obvious components that open it up to the critical and dagger wielding masses but it also has a heart, whilst often hidden, that carries into a more watchable (if only slightly so) landscape.
Whether it’s a confronting and open hearted examination of Arthur and Joan’s troubled marriage around a campfire, Watt’s fine turn as the doomed Joan or an ending that could’ve really been something handled better, Sea of Trees still bares the tiny remnants and fragmented elements of the film many all hoped for when it was announced.
Expectations can be a dangerous thing, Sea of Trees can well and truly bear witness to this and while its far from 2016’s worst film, Gus Van Sant and crews misguided and miscued meditation of life, love and loss is unlikely to ever find itself spoken about as a misunderstood masterpiece, rather a film that for whatever reason couldn’t find out what it was trying to say or how it was going to say it.
2 flash floods out of 5