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Sea Inside, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/17/04 07:17:51

"Like watching noble and well-meaning paint dry."
3 stars (Just Average)

“The Sea Inside” is a well-made made that takes an important subject and looks at it in a fair and considered manner. The performances are impressive-the central one from Javier Bardem is one of the best of the year-and it marks an intriguing change-of-pace for director Alejandro Amenabar, the Spanish director who became an international sensation with his twisty thrillers “Open Your Eyes” (which later served as the basis for “Vanilla Sky”) and “The Others”. And yet, if I were to recommend it to you, I would have to ignore the fact that for all of its qualities, the film is kind of a drag to watch. For a movie like this to succeed, it needs to be told with a burning passion that makes you respond to it; this one, on the other hand, is like watching paint dray. Intelligent, thoughtful and well-meaning paint, to be sure, but paint none the less.<

Bardem plays Ramon Sampedro, a Spanish man who was paralyzed from the neck down following a tragic diving accident. After enduring nearly 30 years of imprisonment within his own body in the upstairs bedroom of his brother’s home, he ignited a storm of controversy throughout his heavily Catholic country when he campaigned for the right to end his own life. Among the people aiding him in his case is Julia (Belen Rueda), a lawyer who knows all too well the reasons behind Ramon’s desire to end his suffering. Among those trying to convince him to go on living is Rosa (Lola Duenas), a neighbor who visits him regularly in an well-meaning effort to show him that even his life is worth living. Even the church tries to involve itself in the controversy; a crippled priest goes on television to condemn Ramon for his actions and later shows up uninvited at the house in order to further harangue him.

. This is familiar material, to be sure (as anyone who has seen “Whose Life Is It Anyway” can attest) and the central flaw of Amenabar’s film is that while he has certainly made a beautiful-looking film, he doesn’t really add anything new to the proceedings. There are some nice things here and there-I love a bit where someone is forced to serve as a runner between floors during an argument and there is a great and stirring moment when Ramon’s sister-in-law defies both her husband and her religion by telling off the priest when he finally goes too far. However, for every one of those moments, there is another one that simply doesn’t’t; the priest, for example, is so over-the-top and unfeeling that he ceases to be believable and a dream sequence, in which Ramon fantasizes about leaving the confines of his bed, that may have sounded like a nice way to represent his desire for freedom in theory, but which just doesn’t work.

What does make “The Sea Inside” almost worth watching, provided you have a taste for such material, is the amazing lead performance by Javier Bardem, the actor who became an instant star with his work in “Before Night Falls” and also had a memorable cameo in “Collateral”. Virtually unrecognizable here, he inspires sympathy for Ramon’s plight without going for the obvious crowd-pleasing moments. Instead, he lends both the character and the proceedings a weight and gravity that the rest of the film, sadly, never quite achieves on its own.

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