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Film Review: Against the Sun (2014)

Director: Brian Falk
Writer: Brian Falk & Mark David Keegan
Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Jake Abel and Tom Felton
Against the sun (2014); a harrowing true story of three US Navy airmen Harold Dixon (Dillahunt),  Gene Aldrich (Abel) and Tony Pastula (Felton) who become stranded on a small life raft in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean when their plane runs out of fuel and goes down.

 

 

After watching Against the Sun I found it to be different from Unbroken (2014) (Angelina Jolie’s big Hollywood WWII biopic Unbroken, which tells the story of Olympic champion Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) and his experience being stranded at sea for days after being shot down by an enemy plane before then being captured by the Japanese, another in an extensive list of war movies both true stories and fictional) in many ways and that their only similarity seemed to be the era they are set, their talented casts and the fact that three men spend a long time at sea in a tiny inflatable raft.

The film starts with the words ‘This is a TRUE STORY’ on screen, in classic biopic fashion, before dissolving to show black and white news footage of the navy and its activities in WWII to songs of the era giving a very 1940s feel, ending with the words ‘SALUTE THE NAVY!’. The music stops and the camera jumps to a wide shot of nothing but miles of Ocean, it pans across really capturing the vastness of the world’s biggest Ocean, before then focusing in on a plane. The next few minutes of the film are close ups of each man in this cramped and what feels like a very claustrophobic three seater plane and we immediately get the sense that something has gone wrong and that they are lost and are quickly running out of fuel. Before you know it they ditch the plane on water, it sinks into the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean and all of a sudden it is night and the three men are floating in the middle of the sea struggling to inflate their life raft. After what seems like an exhausting struggle the three men clamber into this tiny raft which seems barely big enough to fit three grown men and lie down catching their breath looking up at the stars. Then the film cuts to the next day, in a scene that very much echo’s the opening scene of the opening scene of Captain Jack Sparrow in Davy Jones locker in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s end, the scene reads ‘DAY 1’ suggesting the first of many days at sea.
I also loved the filmmaker’s combination of close-ups on the actors in the raft making it feel cramped and claustrophobic to then wide shots of the raft in the ocean creating a sense of their size and insignificance in the world’s vast Pacific Ocean and conveying the direness of their situation.

 

 

Despite the monotony of the films setting, taking place entirely in the Pacific Ocean with only the occasional flash back to close-ups of each man’s experience in the plane before it went down, the film is engaging and I found it funnily entertaining. This is due to the interplay between the actors/characters which is at time humours and creates a entrancing watch. It almost reads like improvised theatre with just three actors on stage playing off each other. This is especially fun to watch after we learn that the three men are practically strangers, for example while the three men lie on the raft catching their breath Dixon leans over and says:
Dillahunt: “Aldrich I think you were already strapped in when I was on deck, didn’t get a good look at you, names Dixon, Harold Dixon”
Abel: Chief (shakes his hand) Gene Aldrich, you’ll get a gander in the morning chief I’m sure I’ll be here”
Dillahunt: Pastula? Is that Italian?
Felton: Polish chief.

 

It is the growing bond and camaraderie between the three men as they endure the hardship of surviving at sea against storms, sharks, and the sun, with no food, no water and no map, that gives this film a spark.

So while Against the Sun is technically one hour and thirty nine minutes of three men lost at sea on a tiny raft, it is an engaging and at times amusing true story of three men’s battle for survival in the vast Pacific Ocean, and if you liked Unbroken I have to say Against the Sun is even better. I thoroughly enjoyed the film.


By Sophie Watts

 

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