Stars: Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Agnes Kittelsen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Odd Magnus Williamson, Tobias Santelmann and Jakob Oftebro.
Writer: Petter Skavlan.
Directors: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.
Dispensing perfunctorily with the land-based early stages of the ocean voyage that would capture the attention of the world, Kon-Tiki finds its sea legs majestically when it casts its cast adrift atop the briny deep.
Despite its relatively modest budget (US$15million), this passionately produced account of Norwegian national hero Thor Heyerdahl’s journey aboard a balsa-wood raft from Peru to Polynesia makes for a cracking piece of man-vs-nature entertainment. Co-directed by Scandinavian filmmakers Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (they of the vastly-underrated Penélope Cruz/Salma Hayek western, Bandidas), this no-frills study in tunnel-visioned heroism and ambition does perfect justice to the cultural magnitude of Heyerdahl’s standing in Nordic history.
Early scenes succinctly establish the spiritual bond between the relentlessly driven explorer Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, channelling Ryan Gosling) and his equally determined wife, Liv (Agnes Kittelsen). These well-played moments of intimacy will come back to haunt both Heyerdahl and the audience, providing for a coda that further emphasises the sacrifice made by the visionary adventurer.
During a stay on a remote Polynesian island, Heyerdahl is tipped off by vegetation synonymous with South American jungles that travellers from that continent may have once navigated the currents of the Pacific Ocean to settle amongst the idyllic atolls half a world away. Obsessed with the notion of recreating the voyage, Heyedahl mans his balsa-wood raft with a mixed bag of seafaring types, including landlubbing engineer Herman (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) and four far more seasoned ocean-goers (played with authentic conviction by Gustaf Skarsgård, Odd Magnus Williamson, Tobias Santelmann and Jakob Oftebro).
The drama of Kon-Tiki spins on whether or not Heyerdahl’s calculations, which indicate the raft will jib eastward before being caught in the inevitably fatal maelstrom of the mid-Pacific, are, in fact, accurate. As the isolation and heat begin to take their toll on the crew, conflicts arise; Rønning and Sandberg don’t break new dramatic ground with these scenes, but they truthfully convey how mentally and physically draining the experience must have been with concise accuracy (and more dramatic impetus than the similarly-themed and wildly-over-praised Life of Pi). A 10 minute sequence that involves the ever-present shark menace and the first mental breakdown of Heyerdahl’s crew makes for compelling viewing.
The outcome is known so little suspense is derived from the men’s journey, but Kon-Tiki is, nevertheless, a gripping piece of old-school adventure. Some tech aspects betray the low-range budget, but none diminish the achievement of all involved. A handsomely-mounted human drama, epic in scope if not execution, Kon-Tiki is a worthy testament to the magnitude of the feat it portrays.