Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sometimes a movie can win me over just by creating a setting and situation where I enjoy being vicariously. It's not often that I find this in a documentary, but here we have Kon-Tiki. I got the thrill of recalling my early adulthood, taking off on little jaunts with my friends. Nothing on the scale of what these researchers undertook, mind you, but I think if we had seen this and could have ever figured out how to finance it, we'd have tried to replicate this voyage.
Ordinarily, the temptation after hearing of something so extraordinary would be to want there to be a dramatization of it that would turn the researchers into characters to get to know and care about. If this doc has one deficiency, it's that we don't learn a single thing about these adventuresome young Norwegians or their group relationship dynamics. I suppose this was in the footage taken inside the hut that was irrevocably damaged. On the other hand, I think on some level, part of what captivated me was that these six men were so undefined that I could easily mentally substitute my friends and myself in their stead.
I was also impressed how this film created suspense by reminding us several times how difficult it would have been to have rescued anyone who strayed or fell from the raft. Similarly, the presence of dangerous fish - including sharks - and whales was both exhilarating and unnerving. I'm grateful that none of the footage shown was shot at night, because dark water is one of my two phobias (the other being heights). I couldn't possibly go on such an expedition for real just because five minutes after sundown, I'd be an absolute mess.
The only caveat I would add for any potential viewers is that we do see the crew catch - read: kill - several fish and a few sharks, mostly by clubbing them repeatedly. One anxious crewman harpoons a whale shark who may or may not have even had any malicious intent. We're only told that it backed off and wasn't seen again, so there's no way to know the extent of the injury sustained by the beast. If you'd like to believe it was a superficial, glancing blow and the whale shark skulked away complaining about human rudeness, I don't think you're contradicted by anything on-screen.
Those moments that made me feel badly for the fish aside, I was entirely enthralled from start to finish. I was reminded of reading Robert Morgan's sublime Boone: A Biography, and his wonderful descriptions of the famed pioneer's legendary solo scouting expedition through Kentucky. Just imagining that kind of extended isolation thrills me. The crew of the Kon-Tiki are on my list of people who have done things I wish I'd done.
How Kon-Tiki Entered My Flickchart
Kon-Tiki > Looney Tunes: Back in Action --> #809
Kon-Tiki > Stagecoach (1939) --> #405
Kon-Tiki < The Adventures of Robin Hood --> #405
Kon-Tiki > The Ramen Girl --> #303
Kon-Tiki > Harlan County U.S.A. --> #253
Kon-Tiki > Erin Brockovich --> #227
Kon-Tiki > Knocked Up --> #215
Kon-Tiki < Star Trek: Insurrection --> #215
Kon-Tiki < Walk the Line --> #215
Kon-Tiki > Club Dread --> #212
Kon-Tiki entered my Flickchart at #212/1617
1951 Academy Awards (24th)
(W) DOCUMENTARY (Feature) -- Olle Nordemar, Producer