Details: (G), 85 mins, In Cinemas 20 September 2012, Canada, English
Synopsis: The true story of a young killer whale, an orca nicknamed Luna, who makes friends with people after he gets separated from his family on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. As rambunctious and surprising as a visitor from another planet, Luna endears himself to humans with his determination to make contact, which leads to laughter, conflict and unexpected consequences.
Soft sell pays off for environmental doco.
its intent is not to hammer home a message of social injustice
Co-directors Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit walk an ironic tightrope in The Whale. Their accomplished account of an orca that changed the lives of the people of Nootka Sound on the west coast of British Columbia's Vancouver Island examines people's misguided and ultimately damaging tendency to anthropomorphise wild creatures, yet the film itself is unavoidably caught up in the very same issue.
Collated from footage captured over six years, this beautifully photographed documentary tracks the increasingly complex bond that the whale, given the name ‘Luna’, developed with logging company workers, fishermen and tourist boat operators with whom he shared the freezing, picturesque waterway. While still an infant, Luna was separated from his pod and began 'reaching out' to the human population of the fjord, becoming synonymous with the area and a cherished member of the community.
Narrated by co-producer Ryan Reynolds in a conversational tone that’s rich in his trademark laconic delivery, The Whale offers a gentle storytelling style, one that has gone out of favour in these post-Michael Moore times. True, its intent is not to hammer home a message of social injustice, but it is a film that tackles the age-old mystery of how (and how much) humans and animals should interact. The plight of Luna is examined from his perspective (as much as possible, anyway), the standpoint of the villagers, the objective view of Parks and Wildlife officials, and, most appealingly, from the spiritual perspective of the native Mowachat/Muchalat first nations, who believe Luna is the new embodiment of a recently deceased elder.
Parfit and Chisholm remain level-headed in their presentation of the differing points of view (more than one commentator has pointed out a certain 'Canadian'-ness in the film’s polite tone), so the film packs a poignant punch both emotionally and intellectually at key moments, often when one least expects it. The delicate, understated dignity of the story’s presentation (particularly the scenes portraying the bond between the aboriginal people and Luna) pays off with resonance, especially in the film’s final stages. (Parents should know that The Whale is kid-friendly for most of its running time)
The co-directors, both ex-journalists who gave up their careers to tell Luna’s story, convinced Reynolds (a Canuck native) and fellow A-lister Scarlett Johansson to come on board as executive producers. The duo’s commercial clout could have derailed the film’s sweet, occasionally sombre tone in favour of mawkish sentimentality, but thankfully those moments are few and far between.
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