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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

The Sea of Trees (2016)


Life is better than the woods. Trust me.

After a great tragedy leaves him numb to the rest of the world around him, Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) decides that he’s just about had it with life. So, in one last act of giving himself what he wants, he decides to travel all the way to Tokyo, or more importantly, the Aokigahara forest. Why? Well, the forest is actually nicknamed “the Suicide Forest” for, you guessed it, all of the suicides and deaths that occur here. But when Arthur gets there, he encounters a Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe), who wants to kill himself as well, but for some reason, isn’t as definite about it. Then again, neither is Arthur. So the two decide to try and get out of the forest, but for some reason, they can’t seem to find a way out and continue to get injured on the adventure out. Meanwhile, Arthur constantly thinks about the life he had back in America with his wife (Naomi Watts), that may or may not have lead him to Japan and, subsequently, made him want to take his own life.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. "Page", meaning script.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. “Page”, meaning script.

The big question on most people’s minds about the Sea of Trees is one thing, “Is it as terrible as people have been making it out to be?” Well, the answer is, “kind of, but not really”. For one, it’s a bad movie that seems awfully misguided – rather than being a deep, interesting and heartfelt meditation on life, death and one’s existence, it’s just one dramatic moment, after another of people appearing sad and that’s about it. There’s supposed to be more heart and emotion in the proceedings, but for some reason, there just isn’t. Everything’s as dry as paint that’s been on a wall for a week and it’s an even bigger shame because the cast and crew, on a good day, can absolutely work wonders.

However, this wasn’t a good day for a single one of them and it’s very apparent while watching it.

And it’s weird because when Gus Van Sant misses, he usually misses his target in a crazy, almost insane way; sometimes, he can often get too experimental and wacky and just lose sight of what he was going for in the first place (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). However, the Sea of Trees is a miss from Van Sant that’s a lot more like Last Days, or Paranoid Park, where it seems like he’s actually so bored with the material, that he doesn’t really care about doing anything interesting, experimental, or even the least bit exciting. He’s just sort of there with the material, filming whatever he thinks needs to be filmed and, essentially, living up to the legend that Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back made fun of all those years ago.

This is odd, too, because Van Sant is actually a very inspired director, but here, he just loses that sense of inspiration; the story is supposed to be filled with so many emotionally-strong moments where people break-down, cry, and air out their feelings for compelling moments, but none of it ever registers. It’s actually kind of weird, really – it’s the one and only bad movie that, for lack of a better term, is just boring. The people in it and acting seem like they’re trying, but to what effect? When there isn’t a script or a direction to really work with, what’s the point?

Well, there isn’t one really, but at least they all seem to try.

Matthew McConaughey seems like a very smart choice for this lead and works quite well, as usual, but his character is so blandly-structured, that he just doesn’t feel like anything, or anyone. He’s just a sad dude that we’ve seen before in other movies and that’s about. His scenes with Naomi Watts, who is playing McConaughey’s wife, are awful; most of the time, they’re fighting about stuff we have no clue about, and when they’re not doing that, they’re trying so hard to create any sort of romance and chemistry that’s just nowhere to be found. Once again, on a good day, McConaughey and Watts can create all sorts of sparks and work wonders for good material, but the good material just isn’t here for them and instead of their scenes being insightful, they’re just annoying.

"Not alright, alright, alright."

“Not alright, alright, alright.”

But it’s an even bigger shame to see Ken Watanabe here, because he too is trying, but also has such a dull character to work with, you wonder if he’s even trying after awhile. Of course, he most likely was, but the scenes he has with McConaughey lack any sort of energy that can be found in the actor’s back-catalog. And yes, even random appearances from Katie Aselton and Jordan Gavaris can’t do anything to save the Sea of Trees, or its actors.

Everyone’s just having a bad day and it’s hard to change that when it’s so obvious.

Which brings me back to my original conclusion: Is the Sea of Trees awful? Not really, but yeah, it’s still bad. It looks great, has the occasional moment of good-acting, and yes, does bring one or two surprises to its story. But the rest of the two hours is just plain and simply put, boring. It’s hard to really care for a movie that does some small things right, when everything else that it seems to be aiming for, they miss and just don’t know how to do right. There’s no one to blame, it’s just a thing that, unfortunately, can happen every once and awhile.

Consensus: Despite a promising cast and director, the Sea of Trees is a bland, uneventful and honestly, boring piece of drama that never gets off the ground and felt more like a chore to make, as opposed to a joy or a pet-project, which it should have felt like.

3 / 10

"Look, over there is a good movie. Hopefully. Let's go find it."

“Look! Over there! A good movie! Let’s go find it”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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3 responses to “The Sea of Trees (2016)

  1. Keith Noakes September 4, 2016 at 4:20 am

    I just remember hearing a story about this one getting booed at Cannes. I guess that’s why.

  2. brettmkane September 4, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Such a shame. I was anticipating this one due to the cast, director, and subject matter, but I’ve heard nothing but awful things ever since its festival run.

  3. filmsCine September 5, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Oh man, that is a shame. I saw a documentary on the Aokigahara Forest a while back and it was really sad and quite fascinating … there’s one hell of a memorable movie in this subject matter but it sounds like ‘The Sea of Trees’ is not it! And I love the caption ‘not alright, alright, alright’ – ha!

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