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Fraser a tour de force in 'The Whale'
Justin Hall at the movies
the whale brendan fraser
“The Whale” has been touted as Brendan Fraser's comeback vehicle and deservedly so. All of the praise and acclaim Fraser has received for his performance has been justified but more on that in a second.
Not only was the hype surrounding his performance made it highly anticipated for me, it also because this is the latest effort from director Darren Aronofsky who has made such acclaimed films as “Requiem For a Dream,” “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan.”
Based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also penned the screenplay, the movie stars Fraser as Charlie, an obese and reclusive English teacher who teaches classes online. He never turns on his webcam as he's afraid to show his appearance.
Charlie lives a lonely existence except for his nurse and best friend Liz (Hong Chau), who tells him that he has congestive heart failure.
Charlie also gets frequent visits from a missionary named Thomas (Ty Simpkins), who desperately evangelizes to him. He believes his mission is to save Charlie before he succumbs to an impending fate.
The one thing that Charlie wants more than anything is to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink of “Stranger Things” fame). Ellie is angry and bitter after her dad left her and her mother from one of Charlie's students who later committed suicide.
Ellie reluctantly agrees to spend time with Charlie on the condition that he helps her write her papers for school and in exchange he'll give her all the money he has in his account.
Fraser gives by far the most tour de force performance of his career. Charlie is a man dealing with great sorrow and regret regarding his past decisions and how much the aftermath has costed him. The only thing that matters is that he wants to make sure Ellie has a good life and that she learns to care about others. That is the theme of the film in a nutshell.
Whenever Fraser occupied the screen, he brings this character to life despite the heavy usage of makeup. We relate to his eyes. We understand his pain and trauma through well-articulated dialogue. We hope for redemption between Charlie and Ellie, even though the movie never gives us that promise, for sure.
The supporting cast is effective, but their individual plot threads are only conventionally engaging at best. Whenever Liz the nurse shows hostility toward the Thomas the missionary, we can bet that there's a reason behind it and it makes us know that they're also connected.
This is an Aronofsky film but not entirely effortless. It deals deal with themes right in his wheelhouse, but other films such as the aforementioned “Requiem For a Dream” or “The Wrestler” pump up the emotion to the point where it's watchable and unwatchable at the same time. “The Whale” certainly has those moments and some viewers will no doubt walk way deeply disturbed and drained. Some may not make it until the end.
As for me, I was reminded a few times of a quote Roger Ebert once said:
"The movies are like a machine that generates empathy."

“The Whale” fits this quote successfully. Every year, there's a virtuoso performance that transcends the film itself. In 2022, that performance is Brendan Fraser.

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