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The Whale (2022) Review - Chicago International Film Festival 2022

The return of The Mummy actor Bredan Fraser to film and television has brought about a celebration of the performer's long-waited 'Brenaissance.' His warm welcome back into Hollywood has rewarded Fraser with a slough of roles - including a spot reserved in the disappointingly-cancled Batgirl film. The actor's career resurgence has proven that his talents have not waned during his time away from the arts, though Darren Aronofsky's The Whale may be his most harrowing appearance on-screen yet. Aronofsky's employment of despair and misery have tinged his filmography with a sense of sorrow, with Fraser ready to carry the weight of his woe. Fraser's heartwrenching depiction of pity is a clear demonstration of a potential Oscar-winning performance.

Stranger Things star Sadie Sink's rage seeths from script to screen as estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sink) is asked to reconnect with her morbidly obese father Charlie (Fraser). Her infuriated, remorseless performance is consumed by self-grief and hatred as she is forced to face a harsh reality. While Sink's venomous resentment consumes her, the script spends most of Ellie's screentime focusing on her resentment. Giving Sink little to do but swelter in the heat of her own hot-headedness traps Ellie as a one-dimensional character. An uneven script is at no fault to the interpretation of the ensemble cast, as Hong Chau's empathetic nurse grants heart to a sorrowful story.

Aronofsky's impulsivity to overwork dramatic visuals is a blow to the need for restraint in The Whale. Charlie's weight is a component of his character, not a defining factor, though The Whale becomes obsessed with using Fraser's fat suit as a centerpiece. The screenplay understands that Charlie is not bound to how heavy he may be as he strives for self-redemption, though Aronofsky's direction holds other priorities. There are moments where cinema touches back on its stage-play roots as some moments feel as if they are theatrical instead of purely cinematic. Screenwriting falling into the endless means of metaphorical storytelling tie together themes of empathy and brutality, even if Aronofsky's meloramaticism confuses acts of hatred and "tough love." When freed overdramatic nature, The Whale slims itself down to a more understanding and heartbreaking portrait of grief and acceptance.

The staginess of The Whale may burden some of its authenticity, though does not cut back Fraser's truly outstanding prescense - whose attachment to the project promises that he's more than a marketable star. Aronofsky wants to be at his most compassionate through devastating piece of filmmaking. Harsh at moments, The Whale is set leveling the rawness of human sadness with practice sympathy and forgiveness. 7/10.

*This film was screened at the Chicago International Film Festival 2022.

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