SUBMERGENCE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Wim Wenders

Stars: James McAvoy, Alicia Vikander, Alexander Siddiq, Celyn Jones, Mohamed Hakeemshady, Reda Kateb.

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Danielle Flanders (Alicia Vikander) is a biomathematician who is about to dive to the ocean floor off Greenland in a mini-submersible to probe her theories on the origins of life. Meanwhile in Somalia, British spy James More (James McAvoy) has embarked on a dangerous mission to investigate the origins of series of deadly suicide bombings that have devastated Europe. More poses as a hydraulics engineer, but he is quickly captured by Somalian terrorists who suspect that he is actually a British spy. More is imprisoned and brutally beaten by Islamic fanatics with no way to contact Danielle to let her know he is alive. Danielle is about to embark on a dangerous ocean dive with no way of knowing if she will ever see James again. Her focus is a little distracted.

A series of extended flashbacks show how the star-crossed pair of lovers met a year earlier while holidaying at a peaceful beach front hotel in Normandy. Flashbacks continually take us back to that early meeting as a relationship developed between the pair. And although the attraction between the pair is instant, they are ultimately separated by the demands of their respective careers. The film jumps back and forth in time juxtaposing the present dangers they face on two different continents with the more idyllic calm of their early relationship. However, its non-linear narrative structure may prove a little frustrating to some looking for narrative clarity.

A slow-paced romantic thriller dealing with big themes like climate change, terrorism, scientific exploration, and the binding power of love, Submergence works largely because of the charisma and palpable chemistry between its two leads. The two leads develop a solid chemistry in their shared scenes and they deserve better than this pedestrian drama. Following her more recent physical role in the Tomb Raider reboot, this is a more passive role for Vikander. This is a physical role for McAvoy who is solid in an underdeveloped role as the idealistic spy.

The supporting cast includes Alexander Siddiq who brings a mix of charm and menace to his role as the enigmatic Muslin doctor Shadid who is conflicted by the tenets of his faith and the violence that surrounds him. Most of the other characters are fairly cliched and one-dimensional.

Submergence is based on the novel written by journalist J M Ledgard, although the torpid, thin screenplay from Erin Dignam (Denial, etc) remains reasonably faithful to the source. The dialogue is appallingly bland and cliched. The subplot following More’s incarceration is the more compelling of the narrative strands and brings some much-needed tension to the material. Danielle’s story somehow seems less involving. The film has been directed in leisurely fashion by award winning German filmmaker Wim Wenders, whose filmography moves between fictional features like the classic American existential road movie Paris-Texas and documentaries like The Buena Vista Social Club. Here his handling of the material is sluggish and lacks any real sense of urgency, and the overwrought melodrama is uninvolving for the most part. Submergence lacks the epic sweep that a filmmaker like David Lean ably brought to his stories of doomed lovers.

Submergence has been filmed in a variety of locations, ranging from Berlin and Madrid to Djibouti to beneath the deep blue sea by cinematographer Benoit Debie (better known for his work with Gaspar Noe), who gives the film a glossy visual surface. The haunting score has been composed by Fernando Velazquez (A Monster Calls, etc).

★★

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