Starring Alicia Vikander. In English and Arabic, with English subtitles. Rated PG
Viewers yearning for another Wings of Desire from Wim Wenders may have to wait a few more decades, judging by this soggy love tale. Appealing leads and noble intentions centre this tech-minded thriller. But the famed German director neither edumicates nor thrills, and he doesn’t handle his cast in a convincing way.
A bulked-up James McAvoy plays More, James More, a Scottish MI6 agent masquerading as a water engineer. Well, he may actually be that too. He’s about to go on a mission to East Africa when he meets Danny Flinders, a “bio-mathematician” played by bespectacled Alicia Vikander, at a fancy French hotel by the beach at Dieppe.
Danny's work makes her part of a project to map and sample remote parts of the ocean floor. “There’s no such thing as oceanography,” she coos seductively, and he asks if she has a yellow submarine. She does. They both live the life aquatic, then. And, thanks to an unflaggingly dismal script by Erin Dignam, who has written several stinkers for Sean Penn, everything gets a wash of waterly metaphors. Or at least I think they do, since the dialogue is likewise submerged in a sea of reverb, microphone distortion, sonic effects, and a soupy orchestral score that never shuts up.
After a few plunges in the icy Atlantic followed by cozy fireside chats about class differences and thermal dynamics, they go their separate ways. Danny’s soon on a research vessel, mostly studying her phone for texts that never come. James really wants to write, but it’s tough when you’re busy being beaten by the local Al Qaeda franchise in war-torn Somalia.
Our alleged engineer is physi-quizzed by a mistrustful warlord (Mohamed Hakeemshady) and his brutal henchman (Reda Kateb, fresh from playing a guitar god in Django). But these sequences, randomly intercut with Danny searching for her octopus’s garden, only click when James gets to wax philosophical with an educated doctor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Alexander Siddig) who believes that jihad is necessary when the West has more money for bombs than for refugees or rebuilding.
Maybe their scenes just work because you could hear the actors talking. These two also seemed to click better than does James with his leading lady, despite all the marinated longing. Then again, maybe there’s no such thing as chemistry.