Firth gives us another rendition of his ‘everyman’ who remains infinitely watchable while Weisz and Thewlis provide selfless support. If only their commitment had been repaid in kind by a workable film then that would have been a small mercy.
This is neither a nautically themed Into The Wild nor some wannabe challenger for J D Chandor’s All Is Lost. Instead what The Mercy brings with it can only be described politely as a strange brew. Based on the true events of Donald Crowhurst who attempted to circumnavigate the globe with minimal yachting experience, The Mercy falls short despite a stellar cast and strong central performance.
This film fails for none of the conventional reasons offering up intangibles which are difficult to pin down. Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz and David Thewlis provide solid character moments laced with humour, grounded in recognisable behaviour and brimming with life, yet something is missing. To begin with the set up itself although neat feels too convenient. Dramatic touchstones which would include the indecision of commitment, financial burden of his endeavour and any seafaring segments seem truncated. For a majority of the time Firth, Weisz and Thewlis seem rushed while actors such as Mark Gatiss barely even register.
Had director James Marsh decided where to keep our focus rather than bouncing between time periods then it might have made for more drama. As it stands The Mercy lacks a sense of urgency and therefore fails to engage when things go south for our protagonist. A fault which is best laid at the feet of writer Scott Z Burns who provides no cohesion through the writing. Set pieces aboard ship which are there to instil danger, threat, isolation or loneliness fail to illicit the required response. Trapped inside a tiny cabin, Firth has little to work with while even the occasional hallucination brings the drama up dry.
This might sound like a litany of complaints for something substandard but The Mercy is still worth watching for those performances. If ever Colin Firth, David Thewlis or Rachel Weisz could be said to draw blood from a stone it is here. That they are able to transcend the mediocrity and structural shortcomings in order that something might be salvaged is commendable. There is little doubt that Donald Crowhurst deserved his place in history and he might have been foolhardy, but at least his intentions for good were there. Firth gives us another rendition of his 'everyman' who remains infinitely watchable while Weisz and Thewlis provide selfless support. If only their commitment had been repaid in kind by a workable film then that would have been a small mercy.