From the novel by J. M. Ledgard comes Submergence, written for the screen by Erin Dignam (“The Last Face”, “Loved”), and directed by Wim Wenders.
German born Wenders may have brought us Paris, Texas and countless U2 videos and the documentary Buena Vista Social Club, but these were a long time ago.
With Submergence, he does his best to make the turgid screenplay come to life, using beautiful locations juxtaposed with the darkness of the depths of the ocean to coincide with James McAvoy’s (“Atomic Blonde“, “Split“) character being held prisoner in a dark cell.
But what he can’t do is inject any real emotion into the storyline, somewhat of a requirement for a romance, and the film floats along, like a turd in the water, acknowledged, but best left avoided.
McAvoy is James More, a secret agent who is undercover but at the moment is in a posh hotel in France. It is here that he meets Danielle, Alicia Vikander (“Tomb Raider“, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E“), who is a bio-mathematician preparing for her next dive to the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean.
The two embark on a whirlwind romance over an undetermined length of time but, we’re are meant to believe, they have fallen deeply in love. As James’ time comes to leave for his next mission, under the guise of providing clean water to pore parts of the world, this time, Somalia, Danielle is left pining.
Things don’t go to plan for James though, as no sooner does he land than he is captured by Jihadist fighters, beaten and thrown into a dark cell. Danielle, meanwhile, becomes more and more concerned that she can’t get hold of this man she’s just met, I mean, fallen deeply in love with.
The next hour and more sees us watching Danielle pine for James, not able to concentrate on her work, whilst James does his best to keep his sanity, and life.
Whilst the film is very well shot, with stunning locations and bright to darkness coming and going throughout. You never truly engage with either character. Danielle has to be one of the weakest female characters we’ve seen on film for some time, pining for her man, unable to concentrate.
James, meanwhile, who we’re led to believe is a secret service operative and former solider, makes zero attempt at escape at any point during his capture and instead seems resigned to his fate and just keeps pining for Danielle, who he only recently met.
It’s a hard line to follow and one that just hasn’t worked being committed to screen. I’m sure, in the book, it works wonderfully as Ledgard can fully flesh out the deepest thoughts of these two lovers, delve deeper into their psyche and reasoning.
With film that is possible, but it’s much, much harder to do and the script ultimately fails to convey this to you, the viewer. What you are left with is a beautiful looking film with two good actors, that limps along, shoehorning references between their two worlds into each other’s. It feels like it’s trying to hard at times, and not nearly hard enough at others.