From the mannered opening sequence of “The Sea” to its anticlimactic conclusion, the movie’s capital-L literary provenance couldn’t be more evident. Though handsomely photographed and featuring a compelling cast, the Ireland-set memory piece — adapted by John Banville from his Man Booker Prize-winning novel — will leave audiences wondering how much more satisfying the muted drama might be on the page.
An excellent Ciaran Hinds stars as the recently widowed Max Morden, who in his grief returns to the seaside town where he spent summers as a child. The stately boardinghouse whose proprietor (Charlotte Rampling) hovers protectively and smokes elegantly holds particular memories for him, woven into the present-day action along with more recent recollections of Max’s wife.
Back in the ’50s, the tween Max (Matthew Dillon) is drawn into the damaged orbit of a glamorously bohemian family. Natasha McElhone and Rufus Sewell are the gorgeous, exuberantly ill-equipped parents of twins who appear to be sadists in training. There’s a sexual charge to these adolescent reminiscences, but no urgency to the way the screenplay and director Stephen Brown tease out the story’s core event. It doesn’t help that a key character (Bonnie Wright) is barely developed on-screen.
Matters of love and loss are more incisively explored in Max’s interactions with his dying wife, sharply etched by Sinead Cusack in flashbacks and alcohol-fueled hallucinations. In a film that otherwise belabors its backward glances, to little effect, these fiercely unsentimental scenes cut deep.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood