|'Once on the boat, the directors manage to keep the narrative going, rather than leaving us to fend for ourselves, at sea with the characters, each of whom, rather conveniently, conform to a level of archetype'|
A dramatisation of the events depicted in the 1950 Oscar-winning Documentary of the same name, there's something of the Indiana Jones successfully captured by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's Kon-Tiki. Depicting a journey across the Pacific by Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) and his crew, made all the more amazing by the fact that it was accomplished on a balsa wood raft, to replicate conditions experienced by the original South American immigrants to Polynesia, the directors successfully imbue Heyerdahl's journey with the romance of 1950s exploration and the feeling of a world at least in part open to questions being posed and answers being given.
That feeling is achieved, at least in part, through the directors giving us both context and an alternative to sitting through two hours of five people surviving on a raft. The lengthy setup sees Thor, at least, with occasional cameos from his team, begging for funding, balancing a home life and initially falling in love with the lore of Polynesia. We see him boarding a vintage DC aircraft and pushing his way through the jungle, torch in hand, and the feeling that we're in the company of a proper explorer is cemented.
Once on the boat, the directors also manage to keep the narrative going, rather than leaving us to fend for ourselves, at sea with the characters, each of whom, rather conveniently, conform to a level of archetype and therefore make for relatively easy, broad characterisation. A scene where a shark is killed for revenge is of particularly harrowing a nature, but more mundane events are also made into successful mini-dramas.
The major criticism is that it all feels a little too bathed in its own 1950s glow. There rarely seems a genuine doubt that the group will get to the end of their journey and the pre-journey setup looks roughly as romanticised as any other period offering we've seen recently. Sverre Hagen is much more at home in his native Norwegian, contributing to the artificial nature of some of the early scenes presented.
The fracturing group, who mete out said shark justice, are also perhaps a little difficult to genuinely root for, with several odd instances that see the characters verge on becoming unlikeable. Given that at least two thirds of Kon-Tiki takes place on a small raft, however, this is often very accomplished stuff, that holds the interest and celebrates a form of discovery which seems long lost.