Film review: Documentary 'The Whale' is a true story that's told well
"THE WHALE" — ★★★1/2 — documentary about Luna, a young killer whale, narrated by Ryan Reynolds; G (nothing offensive); The District
Going back to at least the days of "Flipper," there have been stories about sea creatures bonding with humans, and they are often audience grabbers. The recent "Dolphin Tale," for instance, has proved a steady moneymaker.
But many such stories are both fictionalized and sentimental. Neither term can be applied to "The Whale," and it is all the more effective as a result.
"The Whale" looks at Luna, a young killer whale who separated from his family along the coast of Canada's British Columbia. Lacking a family to bond with, Luna began to connect with humans in the region.
His connections often seemed playful — there's a wonderful moment of Luna playing with a water hose — and suggested real friendships were forming.
But problems still arose from the human-whale interaction, and it appeared that the newly formed bond would be broken.
The film has been kicking around in different forms for several years. It received a boost not long ago when actors (and former couple) Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johannson got involved. Co-directors Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm told the Huffington Post that they showed an earlier version of the film to Reynolds, who showed it to Johannson. Both loved it, and lent their names as executive producers.
In addition, the directors told the Post, Reynolds became the narrator and "they both helped us with ideas of how to make the film better. Ryan, who grew up in Vancouver, near where Luna's family spends much of the year, added some touches of his own to the narration as we were recording it."
Reynolds' low-key but personal narration helps the film, as does the wealth of footage of Luna, complemented by interviews with people who came to love the whale or were entangled in the controversies surrounding Luna.
As if that is not enough, there are also beautiful shots of the land and waters of its Canadian setting.
But the film works best because Parfit and Chisholm keep the story's emotions tightly controlled. This is not a film that feels a need to sentimentalize its animal-human connection, which is evident in the footage, or to overdramatize moments with a big orchestral score.
Instead, "The Whale" has a powerful central character and a good story told well.
"The Whale" is rated G; running time 89 minutes.
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