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The Whale directed by Darren Aronofsky starring Brendan Fraser is a gut-wrenching and compelling film - review

The Whale (cert. 15) reviewed by Peter Woodhouse.

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Samantha Morton, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Sadie Sink.

Director: Darren Aronofsky. Running time: 117 minutes

The Whale. Picture: A14
The Whale. Picture: A14

Tipped for awards and featuring a career-best performance from lead Brendan Fraser (remember him from The Mummy?), if you see a more powerful film this year than The Whale, then you'll be very lucky indeed.

Fresh from a special preview screening – it's not released in the UK until Friday, February 3 – the movie concerns a morbidly-obese reclusive college lecturer Charlie (Fraser) who is literally eating himself to death.

Opening at the beginning of a week, his friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau) tells him that, due to his sky-high blood pressure reading, if he doesn't call 911 and get an ambulance, he'll be dead by the weekend.

We early on learn that years ago Charlie left his now-estranged wife (Samantha Morton) and daughter (Sadie Sink) to run off with a man, one of his mature students.

Charlie is housebound both physically and mentally: he can't even face the pizza delivery driver ("Money's under the mailbox as usual") who brings his nightly fix.

Now desperate to atone during what he believes are his last days on earth, as well as reconnect with his wily and resentful daughter ("You'd still be disgusting even if you weren't so fat," Ellie spits at him), Charlie is also visited by preacher Thomas (Ty Simpkins).

Young runaway Thomas seems to have a simpler agenda: he just wants to save Charlie's soul and let him see the light.

Featuring brilliant ensemble acting and incisively co-written by maverick director, Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Mother!), as you would expect this is not an easy watch.

Based on the play The Whale, by Samuel D. Hunter, it does feel 'stagey' at times.

It's harrowing, gut-wrenching, uncomfortable, heart-breaking, darkly funny in places but compelling.

Its themes of family, guilt, bereavement, redemption and atonement made this cynical so-and-so cry.

The ultra-realistic fat-suit make-up apparatus on Fraser is worth a special effects Oscar alone. Apparently this film has been given flak for not casting a 'heavy' actor. What, in Hollywood, land of fantasy, full of thin, beautiful, unreal image-conscious people? 'Fat' types don't exist!

I don't like giving ratings, especially on such a fresh first impression, but (out of five) it is an easy four.

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