Five to see at the LFF: seafaring adventures

For those who relish the tang of salt air and tales of hazards on the high seas, here are five ports of call at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley
Updated:

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)

What’s it about?

Torn from the headlines, the Festival’s Opening Night Gala dramatises the 2009 hijacking of an American container ship by Somali pirates. Tom Hanks stars as the eponymous skipper.

Who made it?

With two Bourne films and United 93 (2006) to his name, British director Paul Greengrass has a peerless reputation for pulsating thrills and dramatic urgency.

What critics are saying

“With his irrepressibly kinetic style, Greengrass could probably make the opening of a cereal box exciting, so it was almost a no-brainer that he could successfully handle a story like this, which features not only logistical challenges but the sort of volatile political backdrop he has favored in most of his work […] The film rips right along and never relinquishes its grip.” Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

All Is Lost

All Is Lost (2013)

All Is Lost (2013)

What’s it about?

In this tense survival drama, Robert Redford stars as a yachtsman sailing the Indian Ocean who awakes one morning to find his boat several inches under water.

Who made it?

J.C. Chandor made his directorial debut in 2011 with the financial crisis drama Margin Call, starring Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany. All Is Lost is his second film.

What critics are saying

“There is only one actor (Robert Redford as the sailor) and no dialogue at all outside the short voice-over at the beginning of the film and the expletive that Redford yells in the depths of his despair. Nonetheless, the film […] has such rhythm and intensity that it makes utterly compelling viewing.” Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent

Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki (2013)

Kon-Tiki (2013)

What’s it about?

This historical drama recreates the thrilling and hazardous sea voyage undertaken on a raft from Peru to Polynesia in 1947 by Norwegian anthropologist adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. All to prove his theory that it would have been possible for pre-Columbians from South America to have settled in the South Seas.

Who made it?

Co-directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg were childhood friends, who began their filmmaking career in advertising before making a splash with their first feature, Western Bandidas, starring Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek, in 2006. Their 2008 war epic Max Manus was a phenomenon at the Norwegian box office. So what’s next? More seagoing adventure it would seem – they’re signed on to direct Pirates of the Caribbean 5.

What critics are saying

“This retelling of a bare-bones enterprise by six men took a crew of hundreds, and the results are nothing if not polished, with handsome period detail and visual effects that are convincing, if sometimes ostentatious. The widescreen lensing (the film was shot mainly in and around Malta) doesn’t overdo the sense of wonder and, with a strong assist from the sound design, conveys the men’s vulnerability to the elements.” Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter

The Lady from Shanghai

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

What’s it about?

In this labyrinthine film noir, Orson Welles plays an Irish sailor who gets sucked into a murder plot after he’s hired to captain the yacht of a demented attorney (Everett Sloane) and his beautiful wife (Rita Hayworth) on a voyage from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Canal.

Who made it?

Boy wonder Orson Welles may have entered the film world with the modernist milestone of Citizen Kane (1941) and the elegiac family drama of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), but he also proved himself one of the quintessential directors of film noir with both this and the later Touch of Evil (1958).

What critics say

“The weirdest great movie ever made […] The film moves between Candide-like farce and a deeply disturbing apprehension of a world in grotesque, irreversible decay – it’s the only true film noir comedy.” Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Pioneer

Pioneer (2013)

Pioneer (2013)

What’s it about?

Conspiracy thrills below the waves feature oil company deep-sea diver Petter (Aksel Hennie) wondering whether his test-dive accident at the bottom of the Norwegian Sea was really an accident. 

Who made it?

Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 thriller Insomnia was remade by Christopher Nolan in 2002. 2001’s English-language drama Prozac Nation starred Christina Ricci, while 2005’s An Enemy of the People was an updating of the Ibsen play featuring a protagonist inspired by Michael Moore.

What critics are saying

“Cinematographer Jallo Kekarainen Faber gives the film the grimy, washed out look of something that might have been made in the 1970s. He conveys the murky North Sea waters as an otherworldly kingdom and frames some arresting images, including a vast North Sea platform as it majestically sails past the windows of a home.” Allan Hunter, Screen Daily

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