Film Review: Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki is a pretty straight forward biopic in its construction, but it tells an incredible story that allows some gorgeous imagery.

The story follows the true life story of Thor Heyerdahl, a researcher and adventurer that comes up with the crazy theory that South Americans might have been the people that colonized Polynesia 1600 years ago. Laughed out of the room by academics, even with seven years of research, Thor is trying to raise money to test his theory by recreating the trip across the Pacific using only the materials available to the people of that time. He somehow puts together a ragtag crew and sets out west hoping to prove himself right.

This Norwegian production was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards in 2013, but it is mostly an English language film for anyone afraid of other languages. I mentioned that the film is a bit straight forward and that is because it doesn’t do a whole lot with format. It hits all the expected beats as we are introduced to Thor and the film quickly falls into place to get him out on the high seas. Not that this isn’t appreciated as on the water is where the film soars, but I’m not going to lie that the film is a bit dull until it does. The brevity and brisk pacing at least isn’t jarring, as the film’s most head scratching moment comes when it jumps over five thousand miles from the trip.

That’s right, we only get to see the trip from Peru to the Galapagos and then the final hundred or so yards of the trip. This surprisingly works as that early segment of the trip is thrilling and action packed, but I’m not going to lie, I was quite thrown off there for a moment.

I keep raving about the open sea section of the film and it is easily worth the ticket price to see it up on the big screen. This film is gorgeous. It’s not just the stuff on the open sea either, the early sections of the film have some gorgeous segments as well and a lot of it is done with top notch CGI. The effects work in this film is top notch and I never saw the seems at any moment and there is some amazing imagery that had to be assisted by computer graphics. It’s not just the computer effects that shine, the film is wonderfully photographed and put together by co-directors Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg and their creative team. They use every tool at their disposal to make one of the most handsome pictures of the year and the aquatic imagery they bring to life will take your breath away. I would love to see how much of this material was true to life vs. created for drama, but either way it is a sight to be seen.

The acting in the film is just fine, but I think better actors might have elevated the material to another level. Pål Sverre Hagen is charismatic and charming as Thor, but they seemed to want to have an edge to him that just never came across through the screen. Anders Baasmo Christiansen is stuck with playing the weak link on the boat and he sadly is forced to go through a bunch of stereotypical crazy guy losing it schtick for the films most dramatic chunks. The rest of the crew get a moment or two each out on the voyage, but its the drama that unfolds around the boat that will mostly gain your attention.

The film’s structure might be a bit odd and otherwise fitting into a strict formula, but it is the imagery and adventure that will keep you pinned to your seat. Don’t take my word for it though, I urge you to head out to the theater if this film sounds the least bit interesting to you as it demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. There are many little areas the film could have probably been better, but visually you will find few film to best this one in 2013.

Kon-Tiki is a B-

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