Movie review: ‘Leviathan’ casts wide net to show fishermen at sea

More an accumulation of often indefinable images than any kind of even remotely traditional feature, the documentary “Leviathan” proves a strange and unsatisfying endurance test.

Filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel set up shop on a huge commercial groundfish trawler in the dark seas off New Bedford, Mass., where they shot lots of nervous digital footage of the fishermen and their process — the catching, the gutting, the net-lowering and raising, the deck cleaning and even one worker’s much-needed, onboard shower.

But is there an actual structure created or story being told via the movie’s jiggly close-ups, weirdly framed views and super-long takes unworthy of their subjects (a shoulder tattoo, a fisherman watching TV, a wayward fish head)? Frankly, it’s hard to say.


There’s also no dialogue or point of view; no identification of the fishermen, their location, their schedule or even the types of fish being caught. (Yeah, those are scallops, but what’s the one that looks like a big ol’ elephant’s ear?) At least there’s a vibrant barrage of boat and sea sounds, captured aboveground and underwater, to keep viewers awake.

Though it’s a decidedly arty piece, “Leviathan,” named after the biblical sea creature, also lacks much in the way of traditional beauty or splendor. However, the immersive shots of those swooping and circling sea gulls are quite something.


“Leviathan.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.