The Sea of Trees

The Sea of Trees ★★★½

A film that is as much about the transcendent nature of God than it is its superficial logline, Gus Van Sant's "The Sea of Trees" is an elegant piece of work pocked by its insistence to deliver high drama. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, and Naomi Watts, Van Sant's film blends small-scale production with large-scale emotional and physical landscapes.

Revolving around McConaughey's Arthur Brennan, "The Sea of Trees" finds the man at his end after experiencing losses that would undo any human being. His story, and that of those around him, is told in nonlinear torrents that reveal motivation and purpose. The narrative builds slowly and follows Brennan as he makes a conscious decision to bring an end to his life. The story, however, finds its strength is what happens after that decision.

The narrative's drama is loud, but Van Sant creates something that is both evocative and spiritual. Editing, shot selection, and performances build something whose heart is delicate despite the work's outward noise. Locations are lovely, characters are well-drawn, and, although the film's superficial plot points smack of maudlin forced tragedies, Van Sant is able to present a meditation on grief, love, and discovery that finds its truth in something outside a physical realm.

"The Sea of Trees" may be too sodden for some, but the collective experience of the film is one that is uplifting and, even, inspiring. Van Sant may not be able to fully balance his message with the work's dramatic beats, but he is able to fashion something heartfelt and remarkably fulfilling.

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