Brendan Fraser delivers unflinchingly powerful performance in “The Whale”

Photo credit: Montclair Film, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A force of raw vulnerability, “The Whale” submerges audiences in a tale of a man’s struggles with grief and regret. A powerhouse cast, led by Brendan Fraser as Charlie, guides us through the deep, emotionally-charged and unfortunately, grotesque depths of this adaptation of the stage play.

“The Whale” is a powerful film that expertly adapts the stage play to the big screen. Director Darren Aronofsky masterfully leans into the enclosed feeling of being on a stage, immersing audiences in the emotional journey of the film’s protagonist, Charlie.

Fraser’s portrayal of Charlie is nothing short of extraordinary. The actor fully immerses himself in the role, bringing a raw and unflinching vulnerability to the character. He captures the complexity and depth of Charlie’s emotions, from the despair and isolation of his condition to the moments of hope and connection that he experiences.

His performance is both powerful and nuanced, evoking empathy and understanding in the audience as they witness Charlie’s struggles. His portrayal of Charlie is not only a tour-de-force performance, but it also serves as a poignant reminder of the humanity that lies within us all.

Sadie Sink and Hong Chau also give outstanding performances as Ellie and Mary, respectively. In her role as Ellie, Sink plays Charlie’s rebellious, dominant and estranged daughter. In the context of the pair’s awkward dynamic, one can see how she’s a deeply complex and nuanced character — Sink expertly portrays her internal struggles as she navigates her relationship with her father.

Chau brings a biting wit and fierce determination to her role as Liz, Charlie’s nurse and confidant. She’s deeply caring of Charlie but is brutally honest with her no-nonsense approach to her relationship with him. Chau brings a crucial spark to what would otherwise be a dismal story.

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The film takes audiences on a deeply emotional journey that is oftentimes jarring and disturbing but also incredibly moving. The film does not shy away from the harsh realities of obesity and tries deeply to provide a nuanced and sensitive portrayal of the complex issues surrounding weight, eating disorders and suicide.

On the other hand, the film’s approach to its subject matter is not without its faults. Some might find the film’s portrayal of Charlie’s physicality to be excessive or exploitative. There are several scenes meant to invoke a grotesque reaction in the viewer and it is undoubtedly difficult to watch.

Nearly everything about Charlie — from the way he moves, perspires, eats and breathes — makes it difficult to say whether the film wants to make a spectacle out of him in a cruel and voyeuristic fashion. But, I guess the viewer must decide.

Overall, “The Whale” is a powerful, moving film that is anchored — or rather carried — by outstanding performances from its cast and expert direction from Aronofsky, especially Fraser’s masterful performance. But no matter if you find merit in “The Whale” or not, it’s a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Rating: 4/5

“The Whale” is now playing in theaters nationwide. Rated R for language, some drug use and sexual content. Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes. Contains depictions of obesity, eating disorders and suicide.