Wedged in between Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur’s two English-language, action-driven popcorn flicks – 2012’s Contraband and 2013’s 2 Guns – The Deep (2012) sees the roving director back on home soil for a downbeat but engrossing tale which is about as far removed from his glossy, disposable State-side fare as you can get. Coming across initially like a drab, unsentimental version of the George Clooney-starring seafarer yarn The Perfect Storm, The Deep follows six hard-drinking, seasoned Icelandic fishermen gearing up for yet another trip out to the sub-zero seas of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Scant time is spent with the film’s characters before disaster strikes and the vessel’s huge fishing net gets snagged on the sea bed. Within minutes, the boat has capsized, dragging most of the men to their icy demise. Three of the men remain, desperately treading water. While one opts to begin swimming towards the shore, Gulli (Kormákur regular Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) tries desperately in vain to save best friend Palli (Jóhann G. Jóhannsson). Gulli soon find himself on his own, and thus begins an incredible strive for survival where the fisherman reaches a superhuman level of resistance to the cold in his five-hour swim back to land. Now treated as a hero, Gulli slowly comes to terms with his good fortune.
Based on true events, Kormákur’s The Deep rarely puts a foot wrong in its first, gripping hour. The story is told with superb economy and the more dramatic elements are nicely underplayed, helping to create an intimacy between the viewer and central protagonist. Gulli’s plight is handled delicately and is complemented by a fine lead performance from Ólafsson, who seems to carry the weight of the world on his hefty frame. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the film loses much of its narrative impetus once the exhausted Gulli is home and dry back on terra firma.
Admittedly, it’s a tough challenge for Kormákur to keep dramatic momentum after the main endurance test, and the Icelander tries to smooth over this by peppering the film with mock 8mm footage of Gulli’s flashbacks to his childhood. However, these scenes and a trip to the UK where Gulli is poked and prodded by scientist only reinforce what the audience already know about this blubbery human anomaly. Despite the film’s shortcomings, there’s enough involving and meaty dramatic moments to recommend The Deep, although it may have played better as a Touching the Void-style talking heads/reconstruction mix.