Review / ‘The Mercy’ (M) ***

THE tag “Based on a real event” that often starts a new movie nowadays can portend many things, from apology to papering over cracks in its dramatic wallpaper.

I’ve tried to fathom a reason why this film telling the story of a man who pursued his dream unto death at sea should have the title “The Mercy”. It’s about Donald Crowhurst’s (Colin Firth) commitment, which some might call obsession, to a dangerous undertaking for which he lacked experience or equipment.

Facts are scant after Crowhurst sailed away from Teignmouth in Devon on October 31, 1968 with the stated intention of following in the wake of Francis Chichester by competing in a single-handed, round-the-world yacht race sponsored by a London newspaper. Only two facts are definite. He disqualified himself under race rules when he came ashore in Argentina to repair a hole in one of the hulls of his 12-metre trimaran “Teignmouth Electron”. And the boat was discovered on July 10, 1969 abandoned and drifting south-west of the Azores.

Aboard were logs describing his progress in the race and his thoughts about life, the universe and everything.
On that ephemeral evidence, director James Marsh has used a screenplay by Scott Z Burns to confect a movie that for several reasons misses its target. Above all it’s short on realism.

“Aha”, do I hear somebody say, “what feature movie is totally realist?” Answer – in this case, it doesn’t greatly matter.

Firth does a good job of portraying a man who knows he’s abandoned a wife (Rachel Weisz) and three children to pursue a big fib in the hope of winning the race winner’s prize by fraud and deception. The rest depicts the minutiae of on-board life in mostly calm seas, interspersed with moments ashore with his sponsor (Ken Stott) and a go-getting journalist (David Thewlis), trying to raise public interest.

In short, “The Mercy” is a conjectural filmic portrait of a man in personal crisis, as if peril on the sea wasn’t crisis enough. Low tensions, low conflict values. In one word, bland. In another, unconvincing. In yet one more, disappointing.

At Palace Electric and Dendy

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