- The Sea Inside (2004) movie review: Based on a true story, Alejandro Amenábar’s slick and at times perilously melodramatic pro-euthanasia tale provides Javier Bardem with a showy star role as a tetraplegic Spaniard fighting for the “right to die.”
- Bardem sinks his teeth into a character that demanded a subtler, more nuanced rendering, but most of his fellow cast members – notably Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, and Mabel Rivera – deliver pitch-perfect performances.
- The Sea Inside was the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film. It was also nominated in the Best Make-Up category.
The Sea Inside movie review: First-rate supporting cast saves slick but dangerously melodramatic ‘right to die’ drama
One of Spain’s biggest box office hits of 2004 and the winner of a record-breaking 14 Goya Awards, the Venice Film Festival‘s Special Jury Prize, and the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Alejandro Amenábar’s The Sea Inside / Mar adentro features Javier Bardem as its centerpiece: In a showy performance, the Oscar-nominated actor (Before Night Falls, 2000) plays Ramón Sampedro, a middle-aged tetraplegic man fighting for the right to end his life in a country where – like just about everywhere else – assisted suicide is legally akin to murder.
Unfortunately, a showy star turn is exactly what The Sea Inside didn’t need. Compounding matters, the real-life-inspired message movie is also marred by co-screenwriters Amenábar and Mateo Gil’s overly simplified “right to die” narrative and dramatic sequences that come dangerously close to “disease movie of the week” territory.
On the positive side, The Sea Inside boasts first-rate production values – e.g., Javier Aguirresarobe’s excellent cinematography – and a marvelous supporting ensemble led by Best Actress Goya winner Lola Dueñas, Best Supporting Actress Mabel Rivera, and Best New Actress Belén Rueda.
‘Out to Sea’
In brief, the story revolves around Sampedro (1943–1998), a former seaman who has been wholly dependent on the care of others following a diving accident in his early 20s. Hence the film’s original Spanish title, “Out to Sea.”
Yearning for freedom from his physical prison, he hires an attorney to help him win the right to have someone else – legally – help him to kill himself. The Spanish government, however, is none too willing to sanction euthanasia.
Lola Dueñas plays a woman whose initial aim is to convince Sampedro to embrace life as is; Mabel Rivera is his stern but passionately devoted sister-in-law; and Belén Rueda has the key role of Sampedro’s supportive attorney, a youngish woman (inspired by journalist Laura Palmés [1954-2011]) suffering from a degenerative disease.
Obviously – and, one might add, ethically – the filmmakers’ sympathies are all with their hero-victim.
Javier Bardem looks the part, but…
Curiously, Javier Bardem’s Academy Award-friendly The Sea Inside performance was bypassed at this year’s Oscars, where the Best Actress winner was another performer portraying a tetraplegic fighting for the right to die: Hilary Swank, in Clint Eastwood’s more widely acclaimed (in the U.S., that is) but less compelling melodrama Million Dollar Baby.
Now, in all fairness – and for whatever mysterious reason – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Actors Branch got it right this time around. Bardem didn’t merit an Oscar nomination.
For although the Goya, European Film Award, and Venice Film Festival Best Actor winner looks just right for the role, that has nothing to do with Bardem and everything to do with Jo Allen and Manolo García, the film’s Goya-winning and Oscar-nominated make-up artists.
Besides, as has often happened in Javier Bardem’s other movies – e.g., the aforementioned Before Night Falls, as another tragic real-life individual, Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas; and Pedro Almodóvar’s Live Flesh, as a partially paralyzed ex-cop – his portrayal in The Sea Inside frequently calls attention to himself in a manner that detracts from both the character and the narrative. So much so, that Ramón Sampedro’s final moments on screen come across as near-parody.
Focus on the supporting cast
Alejandro Amenábar should have restrained his lead actor, but he opted instead to milk the story’s inherent drama as much as he could. Indeed, he’s the composer of his film’s at times overbearing score.
Admittedly, the filmmaker’s sheer disregard for subtlety (and for the intelligence of his audience) seems to have paid off both at the box office and during awards season.
A final bit of advice: In case you find Javier Bardem’s work and/or Amenábar’s score distracting, keep your focus on the performers circling around the star. Do that and – regardless of your views on euthanasia – The Sea Inside will be well worth your while.
The Sea Inside / Mar adentro (2004)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar.
Screenplay: Alejandro Amenábar & Mateo Gil.
Cast: Javier Bardem. Lola Dueñas. Belén Rueda. Mabel Rivera. Celso Bugallo. Joan Dalmau. Tamar Novas. Clara Segura. Alberto Jiménez. Francesc Garrido. Josep Maria Pou. Alberto Amarilla. Andrea Occhipinti. Marta Larralde.
“The Sea Inside Movie (2004) Review” endnotes
Awards season honors
Besides its Oscar, Venice, and Goya Award wins, among The Sea Inside’s numerous other accolades were the David di Donatello Awards‘ (“Italian Oscars”) Best European Film; the Independent Spirit Awards’ Best Foreign Film; and the Golden Globes‘ and the National Board of Review‘s Best Foreign Language Film.
Alejandro Amenábar and Javier Bardem The Sea Inside movie images: Sogepaq.
“The Sea Inside Movie (2004) Review: Ineffectual Javier Bardem” last updated in May 2022.