Director: James Marsh
Starring: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott
“What a bloody awful decision”
Back in 1968, amateur sailor and salesman Donald Crowhurst attempted to sail around the world non-stop in an event known as The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Badly unprepared, the voyage proved disastrous as Crowhurst relayed false messages of his location back home, when in fact, he was still flailing in the Atlantic Ocean – thousands of miles from his supposed destination. The newspapers ran the story daily, lauding the underdog Crowhurst as a national hero and his family were bursting with pride. The Mercy is the full account of Donald’s story and deception.
The Theory of Everything director James Marsh steered the ship with a very solid – but small - cast on deck. The story itself is an interesting one, the great underdog story fuelled by lies, desperation, and tragedy and whilst having been adapted before, it seemed ripe for a big screen, big name adaptation. With a lead quarter of Firth, Weisz, Thewlis, and Stott you’re almost guaranteed fine performances regardless of the quality of the movie – and that’s just what you get here in a movie that rides the wave between just OK and very decent.
Colin Firth gives a good performance as Donald Crowhurst – a family man with a desire to be more than he is. Forced to straddle a range of emotions, he proves as capable as ever here and is a protagonist to root for. Weisz is slightly underused, but she is still excellent as the stoic wife thrust into the public eye as the story and adventure unfold. She is also afforded the best chunk of dialogue towards the end of the movie.
Set against the lovely backdrop of Teignmouth, Devon (and later Surrey and Malta), the beauty of the English coastal town is here for all to see, and it’s a wonder why Donald would want to leave it behind for six months. The grey blustery morning of departure that begins with solemn silence is pure English dusk before the sun comes as the party and celebrations begin as Donald sets sail on his quest. It’s all very quaint and proper, but bloody hell is it marvellous to see. It’s not just the visuals that look lovely, The Mercy is sadly one of the final films scored by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and his beautiful, dreamlike score really adds heft and gravitas to the movie and elevates certain scenes to be much more than they would have been without it. It’s a sumptuous score.
The main drawbacks of the movie come within the writing overall. For a man’s descent into madness, trapped in the vast expanse of the ocean, it’s a bit…polite. The performances sell the emotion, however, there’s a lack of suspense and sharpness in the third act that ends up being rather abrupt and strangely paced throughout. That third act, whilst emotive (due to Firth/Jóhannsson’s double team), should have been so much more given the circumstances and events, but ends up feeling a bit rushed. Throughout the entire movie, there’s a distinct lack of urgency – not the need for thrills and spills, but that verve that made The Theory of Everything so wonderful, which leaves the movie feeling only slightly empty at times.
With everything required at his disposal, James Marsh hasn’t quite managed to craft another excellent biopic, but he certainly hasn’t made a failure either – certainly not. With The Mercy, he simply delivers a decent movie from a compelling and captivating real-life story.
September 6th 2018