Overview: When three US airmen crash land in the ocean during Word War II, they must fight to survive for days on a small raft without food, water, or any sight of immediate rescue. Distributed by Goldcrest Films NY; Rated PG; 100 minutes.
The Obvious: It’s impossible not to compare this movie to the similar survival stories that came before it — most notably, All Is Lost and Life Of Pi, and while those comparisons might seem obvious, Against the Sun really is a very different film. All Is Lost is one man’s battle against himself. Life of Pi is a spiritual journey. Against the Sun, though it isn’t as complex as it could be, is a study in human relationships, in men leaning on each other and pushing one another through an impossible situation.
We’ve Seen Most of this Before: Against the Sun breaks no new ground. These are character types we’ve seen before, a story we all but already know, and plot points that feel so overdone that at times scenes from the movie, such as a tense moment when sharks surround the raft, feel as if they’re taken exactly from past survival films. Swelling, overly inspirational music hinders the film’s ability to dig in deep, and every time it seems as if director Brian Falk is going to show us something new, he pulls on the reigns, careful not to let the film stray to far from a seemingly predetermined survival story mold.
Still, there are things I loved about Against the Sun.
The Cast: The chemistry between these three actors is stunningly natural and watchable. Garret Dillahunt (the dad from Raising Hope!) is criminally underrated, and he shines as the chief and leader of the group in Against the Sun.
Jake Abel is expressive and riveting as Gene Aldrich. And Tom Felton is intensely likable as the optimistic and driven Tony Pastula. It’s always a joy to realize that Felton, like many other actors who found fame through Harry Potter, can actually act. His American accent slips every now and then throughout the film, but he’s pleasant enough on screen that it’s easy to overlook these shortcomings.
Playing to Strengths: Director Brian Falk seems to realize that this cast is his film’s greatest strength, and he uses what he’s got. The film is packed full of tight shots of individual expressions and the rise and fall of defeated shoulders.
Also worth noting is the makeup work. As the film progresses, the men get more and more ravaged by the sun — as the film’s slightly goofy title suggests. The sun is the kind of adversary that’s easy to ignore, but the stellar makeup work makes it an ever-present danger.
In closing: Without a strong cast, Against the Sun would have failed. There’s no doubt about that. Luckily, this is a strong cast. More admirable than that though, is the fact that this is an interesting cast. Kudos to the casting director, because Felton, Abel, and Dillahunt, while all being familiar faces who have worked on projects that I’ve liked a lot, are just about the last three men I would expect to see in a movie like this one.
Much like Felton’s American accent, Against the Sun is not perfect. Not even close. But with chemistry like this, imperfect feels all right.