REASON: Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is an 800-pound English teacher suffering from congestive heart failure. Knowing his time is limited, he refuses his caregiver’s (Hong Chau) demands that he go to the hospital, choosing instead to spend his remaining time trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink) .

REVIEW: Darren Aronofsky is one of the most challenging directors working today. For many of us, his films are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, meaning they shake us to our core to such an extent that we tend to watch them only once, or at least with significant intervals between viewings. The whale is as good a film as anything he’s ever made, but it’s also one of his saddest, most challenging works.

That hype surrounding Brendan Fraser’s comeback is real and he gives a great performance as Charlie. Resigned to his ultimate fate, he is tortured by his failings as a father. He left his wife and daughter for a man, only for his partner to eventually die under tragic circumstances, leading to Charlie’s current predicament. Consumed by grief and self-loathing, he eats and eats, and the film never spares us his junk food binges (presented with the inevitability of a junkie getting a fix) as he spirals toward his ultimate destiny.

What does The whale so sad that charlie is actually a wonderful guy. He has made some mistakes in life, but he was a kind, devoted partner to the extent that the man’s sister, a nurse (Hong Chau), has become his dedicated caregiver and friend. Fraser exudes intelligence as a teacher who, despite his bleak problems, still tries to inspire his students with a passion for writing. He is ashamed of his appearance and keeps his camera off, but is committed to his students.

Neither Aronofsky nor Fraser holds back, with the forbidden nature The whale established right from our introduction to Charlie. We find him masturbating furiously to porn before suffering a cardiac event, all while an “end times” missionary falls in on him. The episode and his blood pressure assessment convince him that his time is limited, fueling his desperate need to reconnect with his daughter. Fraser plays Charlie as desperate to do something good with his life, but he also radiates intelligence and wit. You don’t feel sorry for him, no matter how awful it gets. You get the idea that Charlie is where he wants to be to some extent. He is addicted to food, but also tries to eat himself to death. Pictures on the wall show us that Charlie was always heavy, but only got into the state he is in now after his beloved partner passed away.

Fraser has arguably never had a better showcase. Many have criticized the premise, but Fraser brings a lot of humanity to the role. The “cool suit” which is a combination of practical work and CGI, and to his credit he never looks like he’s wearing a suit. Most importantly, he never loses his dignity, a testament to his bold, courageous performance.

While a star showcase for Fraser, he is not the only one in The whale that delivers destructive work. Stranger Things Star Sadie Sink will emerge from this as perhaps the next big thing, delivering a shattering performance as Charlie’s angry daughter, Ellie, who treats her father with rage and cruelty, which he receives with patience and a smile. Sink evokes that Ellie isn’t just angry; she is damaged by how she was abandoned and is not eager to let Charlie go. She also delights in tormenting Ty Simpkins’ Thomas; a missionary bent on “saving” Charlie’s soul.

Hong Chau, who was also prominent in The menu, is perhaps the kindest person in the film, even though she’s just as angry as Ellie in her own way. She sets Charlie up by bringing him junk food, but is desperate for him to go to the hospital, despite his pleas that, given he has no insurance, he would only sink into debt (“better in debt than dead,” she pleads). Samantha Morton also has a single powerhouse appearance as Charlie’s bitter but essentially empathetic ex-wife who warns him that their daughter is “a terror.”

One thing worth noting is that The whale is based on a play (Samuel D. Hunter) and its stage origins are evident, with the entire film taking place in one location. However, Aronofsky and DP Matthew Libatique take the opportunity to make the film feel strikingly intimate, with the narrow 1:33:1 aspect ratio helping in that regard. The score by Rob Simonsen is another strong showing for the up-and-coming composer and adds to the mood.

While I was gloomy, I would stop calling The whale depressing, with poignant perhaps a more appropriate description. It’s gut-wrenching and occasionally challenging, but it’s also extremely well-made and has some incredible performances, with Fraser a lock for serious price consideration. The whale is the start of a significant comeback, though it’s bittersweet because it took Hollywood so long to give him a role worthy of his talent like this one.

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