Toronto Review: The Deep (Djupio)

Gritty and realistic shipwreck saga from one of Iceland’s premier filmmakers.

"Contraband" director Baltasar Kormakur returns to Iceland for this true story of shipwreck survival.

TORONTO -- Icelandic auteur Batlasar Kormakur (Contraband, Jar City) delivers a rough-and-tumble tale of one man’s miraculous shipwreck survival in his homespun dramatic thriller, The Deep (Djupio).

Inspired by true events that occurred off Iceland’s volcanic Westman Islands in 1984, the film’s first half features a slew of impressively realistic sea scenes that rival the best work of James Cameron and Wolfgang Petersen, only to lose steam once the action shifts to shore and the hero faces the consequences of staying alive. Due out for local release on September 21, The Deep will perform well with home audiences familiar with the story and circumstances, while Kormakur’s reputation could help seal small-scale theatrical pickups and cable slots.

Cutting right to the chase after a brief, alcohol-infused introduction to the crew of fishing boat the Breki, we find the burly Gulli (Olafur Darri Olafsson) and his fellow seamen caught in rough waters that suddenly get disastrous when their boat capsizes. With two sailors already lost, Gulli tries his best to save buds Palli (Johann G. Johannsson) and Hannes (Bjorn Thors), but the freezing temperatures—detailed by on-screen titles—are too much for them, leaving Gulli to fend for himself.

According to Kormakur, who introduced the film at its world premiere in Toronto, there was no CGI used in the harrowing sequence in which Gulli swims for several hours across dark open waters, until pummeling ashore between backbreaking waves and rocks. Surely, these scenes must have been a nightmare to shoot (Olafsson deserves honorary membership to The Abyss club), but the technique pays off by making Gulli’s feats seem that more impossible, and the filmmaker cuts in 16mm flashbacks of a childhood volcanic eruption to give the whole sequence an explosive, primordial feel.

After such highlights, The Deep settles down to a more tepid account of Gulli’s return home, where he faces up to inquiring reporters and scientists trying to understand his superhuman feats. As the taciturn hero seems to live a rather lonesome and uneventful existence, it’s harder to invest in the film’s latter sections, which do little more than detail some of the probing that Gulli was subjected to and lack the dramatic impact of the accident itself.

A regular Kormakur cast member since 2000’s 101 Reyjavik, Olafsson offers up an enduring physical performance, even if his character remains a fairly one-dimensional figure. Crisp RED widescreen cinematography by Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson (Black’s Game) and dynamic sound work from Kjartan Kjartansson and Ingvar Lundberg round out a pro tech package that makes terrific use of its monumental real-life locations.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentation)

Production companies: Blueeyes Productions, Filmhuset Produksjoner AS

Cast: Olafur Darri Olafsson, Johann G. Johannsson, Bjorn Thors, Throstur Leo Gunnarsson, Thorbjorg Helga Thorgilsdottir

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Screenwriters: Jon Atli Jonasson, Baltasar Kormakur

Producers: Baltasar Kormakur, Agnes Johansen

Executive producers: Lilja Palmadottir, David Linde

Director of photography: Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson

Production designer: Atli Geir Gretarsson

Costume designer: Helga I. Stefansdottir

Editors: Sverrir Kristjansson, Elisabet Ronaldsdottir

Sales: WME Global (U.S.), BAC Films (Outside U.S.)

No rating, 93 minutes