Though on the surface Jérome Salle’s The Odyssey is just your archetypal biopic, of the relentlessly curious, resolutely ambitious explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the film’s dramatic edge and emotional core comes through the character of Philippe, his rebellious son. It’s a tried, tested and often triumphant technique within this sub-genre, to peer into the subject’s extraordinary life from an outside perspective, to allow for somebody else to steer the ship, which in the case of this great captain, makes for something of a change.
Beginning in the late 40s, Cousteau (Lambert Wilson) is enamoured by the sea. The sheer immensity of it, the ability, as he puts it, to fly, to be caught somewhere between the sun and the sea-bed, and so he manages to secure funding and begin an expedition to travel the world with a team of deep sea divers, to capture footage never seen before. His success – as an inventor, a researcher and a filmmaker – does come at a cost however, as he grows apart from his devoted wife Simone (Audrey Tautou) and his son Philippe (Pierre Niney) who idolises his father, despite struggling to ever quite see eye to eye.
Yet for all for the diligence shown in the storytelling, the narrative structure and way this narrative is presented is somewhat conventional, Hollywoodised even, and abiding too stringently to the tropes of the biopic sub-genre. There’s no denying this is a fascinating story, but it’s let down by its bid to be so accessible to a mainstream market, with a somewhat cliched score emblematic of this fact. In the midst of this grand approach, we lose that strand of intimacy that the film requires, and though appreciating the story on a surface level, when we dig deeper it becomes something of a challenge to engage emotionally, and given what occurs in the latter stages, to not feel as moved as one should is underwhelming to say the least.
Visually, however, it’s a different story – and the effects help illustrate this tale so well, with one scene featuring several sharks underwater breathtaking to say the least. Even the make-up is impressive, with Wilson ageing so naturally across the several decades this story is set between, actually resembling an elderly gentleman by the close of play. Clint Eastwood – take note, this is how you do it.
The Odyssey is released on August 18th.