HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, May 4, 2015

AGAINST THE SUN -- DVD Review by Porfle

The true story of three Navy airmen at the start of WWII who must ditch their torpedo bomber in potentially hostile waters in the Atlantic, only to find themselves cramped into a tiny rubber raft with no food or water and scant hope of rescue, AGAINST THE SUN (2014) is a good example of filmmakers setting a daunting challenge for themselves and then meeting it in fine style.

Hitchcock faced the challenge himself with LIFEBOAT, but with a larger cast (and a larger boat). The more recent spate of "predicament" films such as OPEN WATER, BLACK WATER, FROZEN, THE REEF, etc. featured small groups of people in seeminingly hopeless peril but with more emphasis on gut-wrenching suspense and often horror.

Here, on the other hand, the human drama of three basically decent guys facing death with courage and grace in the most difficult of circumstances gives AGAINST THE SUN a well-earned emotional core that lends it a resonance often lacking in those other films.

Director Brian Falk knows how to keep things interesting even when nothing seems to be happening at all. Much of the story consists of long, drawn-out days and nights in which the three men simply pass the time by getting to know each other. Both they and their backstories are so ordinary that we can't help but identify with them and feel for their plight.

As hunger, thirst, and exposure become a constant agony for them, we experience their dogged efforts to survive as well as their gradual feelings of closeness and comraderie. In stark contrast are the times when despair leads to recriminations, and hostilities inevitably arise over who is to blame for their situation in the first place.

Captain Dixon (Garret Dillahunt, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles") is a stern-jawed, by-the-book officer who imposes military discipline as long as he can, for his own reassurance as much as anything else. Aldrich (Jake Abel, THE LOVELY BONES, I AM NUMBER FOUR) bristles at such strictures, especially when he begins to suspect that the captain himself is at fault for the forced landing. The sweet-natured farmboy Pastula (Tom Felton, best known as Draco Malfoy of the HARRY POTTER films) seems least prepared for such conflicts, and we fear that he may be the first to succumb when worst comes to worst.

Helping to move the story along are their various inventive ways of sustaining themselves such as devising a makeshift fishing line which, in one case, results in their having to wrestle a small but feisty shark that gets pulled into the raft. Periodic rain showers offer them a minimal amount of drinking water as their time on the open sea drags into weeks.

Punctuating these long periods of inactivity are the sudden moments of sheer, panic-stricken terror in which mere seconds can mean the difference between life and death. The threat of sharks is vividly driven home in several nerve-wracking scenes, and one violent thunderstorm strikes with hurricane-force winds and crashing waves that threaten to plunge them into the dark, churning depths.

After some iffy CGI during the opening flying scenes, the SPFX for the rest of the film are very well done. Much of the footage not shot on location was filmed in a huge water tank surrounded by green screen. Digital wave effects such as those seen in the storm sequence are adequately convincing. Keeping in mind that the film is the work of a small independent production company (The American Film Company), the visual effects are quite impressive.

Still, what really carries the film are the performances. Casting regular-looking guys instead of the usual Hollywood types who look good with their shirts off is a major plus, as they bring an often heartrending realism to their characters. Adding to this is the fact that the script was filmed pretty much in sequence while the actors were kept on a strict diet that made them gradually lose weight. This in addition to makeup adds to what appears to be the gradual physical deterioration of the three men as their decline worsens.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras consist of the making-of featurettes "Against the Sun: Behind the Scenes", "A Plane Takes Flight", "Starving at Sea", "Working on Water", "F/X: On Set and Off", "Blisters, Burns, and Bites", and "Dressing the Part.

As in most of the better "predicament" movies, we get to know these characters intimately enough to become fully invested in their plight and, for better or worse, its eventual outcome. If such a story is well told, we dread seeing them come to harm and share in their small victories along the way. AGAINST THE SUN managed these things in such a subtle, genuine, and non-sensational way that, at the end, I was unexpectedly moved to tears.

Buy it at


No comments: