Movie Review: ‘The Mercy’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

On October 31, 1968 Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth), an inventor and amateur sailor, began his attempt at a single-handed, round-the-world sailing race called the Golden Globe. Although his invention—a navigation device called the Navicator—had granted him some modest success, Crowhurst hungered for greater recognition. For a legacy. Framing his entry into the race as an advertisement for his business, and therefore a prime investment opportunity, he secured funding from Stanley Best (Ken Stott), who had invested in the Navicator previously.

Crowhurst envisioned a masterful demonstration of a triple-hulled boat called the trimaran, possibly more stable and faster than other racing yachts in common use at the time. He also planned on several safety features and redundancies to guard against disaster, all of which would require a great deal of time and money to install. With the starting window closing and his competitors already at sea, Crowhurst mortgaged his house and business to secure additional funding from Best.

It still wasn’t enough.

When he left England on the final day of the weather window, almost none of his innovative safety solutions were installed and Crowhurst still lacked experience sailing the unwieldy vessel alone. Eight months later the trimaran was found floating, abandoned, in the North Atlantic. The story of what happened between Crowhurst’s departure and his ultimate disappearance is fit for any tabloid: falsified navigational records, unauthorized stops at port, and a slow descent into madness traced through the journals he left behind onboard.

Working off a script by Scott Z. Burns, director Scott Marsh and his otherwise accomplished cast largely phone in this tepid rendition of a sensational story. As the vanished adventurer, Firth portrays Crowhurst as an unfortunate man caught up in the expectations of others. Largely gone is the ego, the stubbornness, and the manic desperation that form the cornerstones of his sail. Rachel Weisz has little to do as Crowhurst’s wife, relegated to dutiful sound bites and wistful gazes that waste her considerable talent. British performers easily recognized on this side of the pond, Mark Gatiss and David Thewlis make minor appearances as a journalist and Crowhurst’s publicity agent.

A man alone at sea, battling himself as much as the inhospitable elements, should provide awards season fodder for an actor with Firth’s talent. Robert Redford took advantage of a similar role several years ago in All Is Lost. The Mercy settles for a middle-of-the-road, forgiving examination of a man more complex—and more broken—than the filmmakers are willing to credit him for.

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