Brendan Fraser delivers the performance of his career in director Darren Aronofsky’s latest film.
I want to begin this review by saying that The Whale is not for everyone. From the start, it’s uncomfortable and in your face as we witness a man who is morbidly obese and on his last week to live; it wouldn’t shock me if some people turn this off or leave the theater after the opening scene. With this being a Darren Aronofsky film, it has a very distinct directing style and tone (and is surprisingly suspenseful at times). Thematically, many of Aronofsky films are rooted in religion as is the case here again. But his direction remains pretty precise as usual. But Aronofsky is not why most people are going to go see The Whale. They’re going to see it because of Brendan Fraser and his performance here is truly remarkable in a film that will challenge its viewers.
Overall, the premise of The Whale is simple. It follows Charlie (Brendan Fraser), who is a morbidly obese reclusive English teacher, that attempts to reconnect with his teenage daughter (Sadie Sink) during his final week of life. He realizes the mistakes he has made up to this point and wants to do at least one thing right before he passes away.
The themes in The Whale get a bit messy and some moments feel repetitive or ridiculous. But the performance from Fraser and the entire supporting cast makes this a must-see. Fraser does an amazing job in the role of Charlie, who comes off like a genuinely good person that has simply made some big mistakes in his life – even if it is now too late. Those mistakes, combined with the passing of his partner, played a part in his massive weight gain. Fraser does such a good job conveying emotions, going from optimistic in one scene to pitiful in the next. In addition to that, the role is physically demanding, as Fraser had to wear a heavy prosthetic suit for hours at a time, which caused him to use muscles that he had never used before. That alone deserves some recognition. And visually, the approach is spot on and the cinematography does an amazing job of displaying a dim, bleak interior of Charlie’s apartment that makes it feel like a recluse’s place that no one would want to step inside.
From top to bottom, The Whale is far from Aronofsky’s best movie and this will not be among one of the year’s best films. It is not for lack of trying, but there is only so much that can be done with the story. Aronofsky is known to be a divisive filmmaker, but he knows how to get the best performances from actors attached to his projects and that’s certainly the case here. Thanks to his dynamic range on full display here, there’s a good chance Fraser walks away with an Oscar for his performance in this film and it would be deserving. Packing an emotional punch, The Whale will result in few dry eyes left by the time the credits roll.