Review: ‘The Burning Sea,’ starring Kristine Kujath Thorp, Henrik Bjelland, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Anders Baasmo, and Bjørn Floberg and Anneke von der Lippe

March 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Henrik Bjelland, Kristine Kujath Thorp and Rolf Kristian Larsen in “The Burning Sea” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“The Burning Sea”

Directed by John Andreas Andersen

Norwegian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway, the action film “The Burning Sea” features an all-white cast representing the working-class and middle-class during an aquatic catastrophe.

Culture Clash: An offshore underwater robotics worker races against time to find out what’s causing the destruction of ships and oil rigs in the North Sea.

Culture Audience: “The Burning Sea” will appeal primarily to people who like watching predictable and mediocre disaster movies.

A scene from “The Burning Sea” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“The Burning Sea” is a formulaic disaster flick with no imagination or engaging personalities. Viewers can easily predict what happens and then quickly forget the movie. “The Burning Sea” tries to make social commentary about the dangers of pillaging the environment, but the movie’s environmental message is cheapened by too many stupid scenarios.

Directed by John Andreas Andersen and written by Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Lars Gudmestad, “The Burning Sea” (which takes place in an unnamed part of Norway) is one of those disaster movies where viewers find out within the first 10 minutes who are supposed to be the “heroes” of the story. These “hero” characters are the ones that audiences are supposed to root for the most to survive the environmental catastrophe that takes place in the movie. Anderson also directed the 2018 disaster flick “The Quake,” which was written by Rosenløw-Eeg and John Kåre Raake, the screenwriting duo behind director Roar Uthaug’s 2015 tidal-wave disaster flick “The Wave.” All of three of these movies wallow in corny clichés instead of the creative realism that would make this type of disaster movie more riveting and impactful.

How do you know who’s going to survive in “The Burning Sea”? Let’s just say that certain people in the movie unrealistically escape death in the middle of explosions that kill other people. There’s also a scene that takes place deep underneath the North Sea, where no one is wearing the correct underwater gear to survive, but certain people survive anyway with no damage to their respiratory system. “The Burning Sea” is very careless with basic details.

This 104-minute movie wastes a lot of time in the first 20 minutes showing the somewhat dull routine of protagonist Sofia Hartman (played by Kristine Kujath Thorp) and her co-worker Arthur (played by Rolf Kristian Larsen), who work at Eelume Offshore Robotics, where they test and operate underwater robots. The robots are designed to perform tasks, such as go underwater for rescue missions or retrieve things in underwater places that might be too dangerous or inaccessible to people. Sofia and Arthur are platonic friends who respect each other.

Unfortunately, the personalities of all the people in “The Burning Sea” are incredibly generic. Sofia has been dating an oil-rig worker named Stian Helseth (played by Henrik Bjelland) for the past nine months. Stian is a single father to a son named Odin (played by Nils Elias Olsen), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. The movie doesn’t mention what happened to Odin’s mother, but it’s made clear that Odin’s mother is not in their lives.

Sofia and Stian are in a happy relationship, and she gets along well with Odin. However, Stian is more willing than Sofia to make the commitment of living together. At work, when Arthur and Sofia talk about her relationship with Stian, Arthur predicts that Sofia will eventually move in with Stian. Sofia says she wants to keep her independence: “I have my life, and he has his. Works like a charm.”

Stian and his brother Ronny Helseth (played by Anders Baasmo, also known as Anders Baasmo Christiansen) work together on an oil rig owned by a company called Hansen. Ronny is married to a woman named Vibeke (played by Mariann Rostøl), who appears briefly in the beginning of the film during a family get-together. The characters in “The Burning Sea” are so bland that the movie doesn’t bother to show anything unique about this family.

One day, Sofia and Arthur are called to bring their robots to the scene of an “accident” involving the oil-rigging M/5 Norman Maximum Subsea Supply Ship. An oil-rig emergency manager named William Lie (played by Bjørn Floberg) tells Sofia and Arthur why the ship is in danger: “A platform has gone down, most likely due to a local subsidence of the sea floor.”

There are people trapped inside, and the underwater robots are needed for the search and rescue. During this rescue mission, Sofia finds leaking gas. She correctly predicts that the ship will explode. At least eight people die during this tragedy.

The center of the movie’s disaster takes place an untold number of days later. It’s at an oil rig on a platform called Gullfaks A, which is located in the North Sea, about 220 kilometers (or 137 miles) from the coast of Norway. A massive explosion causes the oil rig to collapse and kill people who were on the rig. The explosion also ignites a raging fire that’s rapidly spreading across the North Sea. What really caused this explosion?

Meanwhile, William is also the liaison for the officials involved in this investigation, including Norway’s oil and energy minister Steiner Skagemo (played by Christoffer Staib) and a leader only identified as Gunn (played by Anneke von der Lippe), who works at Saga Stavenger, the headquarters of offshore operations. William tells people that the explosion on the supply ship was caused by gas leakage. However, Sofia thinks that it was more than just leaked gas that caused this catastrophe. And there’s a “race against time” to find out when the other explosion hits Gullfaks A.

William knows a lot more than he’s willing to tell certain people. A big clue about what he knows is in the movie’s opening scene, when he is shown saying this monologue: “I started working in the North Sea at 18. That was in ’71. The oil business paid well. We had no idea what we were getting involved with. Zero training. Just follow the Americans. If they said, “Go left,’ we went left.”

William continues, “I remember it was dangerous back then. But it was a risk we were willing to take … Everyone made money. But it’s like driving a car. Drive too fast for too long, and it will never end well. ‘A risk of undesirable incidents,’ we call it in the business.”

In a disaster movie with an environmental message about drilling in the sea for oil, you know exactly what all of this means and who will suffer from the consequences. The rest of “The Burning Sea” plays out exactly like other hackneyed disaster flicks where the government officials are inept, and it’s up to “everyday people” to be the heroes and save others. Because “The Burning Sea” follows this over-used formula too closely and has drab characters and uninteresting dialogue, there’s almost no suspense in watching this movie.

None of the acting is special. The directing is unremarkable. Everything in “The Burning Sea” is just a rehash of scenarios and story arcs from other disaster movies that have much better plots, characters and action scenes. “The Burning Sea” might be enjoyable to people who are bored or who have very low standards for what they think are exciting action movies. Everyone else can find plenty of more thrilling movies elsewhere.

Magnet Releasing released “The Burning Sea” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 25, 2022. The movie was released in Norway in 2021.

Review: ‘Out Stealing Horses,’ starring Stellan Skarsgård, Bjørn Floberg, Jon Ranes, Tobias Santelmann and Danica Curcic

August 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jon Ranes and Tobias Santelmann in “Out Stealing Horses” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Out Stealing Horses”

Directed by Hans Petter Moland

Norwegian and Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway and Sweden in three specific years (1948, 1956 and 1999), the dramatic film “Out Stealing Horses” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A reclusive 66-year-old man remembers a pivotal summer when he was 15 years old and when his family and a neighbor’s family experienced some turmoil that changed their lives forever.

Culture Audience: “Out Stealing Horses” will appeal primarily to fans of star Stellan Skarsgård and to people who like European arthouse films.

Stellan Skarsgård and Bjørn Floberg in “Out Stealing Horses” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

How does a person’s childhood define who that person is an adult? That question is posed in the dramatic film “Out Stealing Horses,” an often-morose character study that is partly a “coming of age” story and partly a “coming to terms” story, as one very reclusive man looks back on a turning point in his life.

Hans Petter Moland wrote and directed “Out Stealing Horses,” which is based on the Per Petterson novel of the same name. The beginning of the movie takes place in rural Norway in November 1999, when 66-year-old widowed retiree Trond Sander (played by Stellan Skarsgård) is settling in his isolated house during a snowy night. Trond says in a voiceover: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being in a place like this.”

Trond also says that he won’t be part of the village’s New Year’s Eve celebrations to usher in the new millennium, and that he’s looking forward to spending New Year’s Eve alone and drunk. Why is Trond so reclusive and seemingly depressed? Part of the reason is because his wife died three years earlier in a car accident in which Trond was driving the car and she was a passenger.

But there are other reasons why Trond doesn’t really like to be around other people. And those reasons are made clearer when Trond’s memories of a life-changing summer are triggered after he encounters a 61-year-old man named Lars Haug (played by Bjørn Floberg), who happens to be outside Trond’s home on that snowy November night.

Lars and Trond see each other because Lars has been out looking for his Border Collie dog Poker and calling the dog’s name. The dog eventually comes back to Lars, who introduces himself to Trond as one of the neighbors. There’s something a little mentally “off” about Lars, because while he was looking for his dog, he tells Trond an odd, random story about how when he was 19, he was forced to shoot a German Shepherd out of self-defense.

During the course of their conversation, Trond realizes that he knows Lars from when they were children, but they haven’t seen each other in decades. The movie then flashes back to the summer of 1948, when Trond was 15 years old and living as an only child with his parents in rural Norway. The parents in this story don’t have names, which is a symbolic
and psychological indication that Trond wants to block out some bad memories.

What happens in that flashback won’t be revealed here, but it’s enough to say that young Trond (played by Jon Ranes, in his film debut) and his stern, domineering father (played by Tobias Santelmann) have a tension-filled relationship. Trond’s mother (played by Beate Mostraumin) is loving but fairly passive.

Trond’s family is friendly with a neighbor family that includes a husband and wife (played by Pål Sverre Hagen and Danica Curcic); their 17-year-old son Jon (played by Sjur Vatne Brean); and their 10-year-old fraternal twin sons Lars (played by Torjus Hopland Vollan) and Odd. One day during that summer, when Jon and Trond go outside to steal some horses as a prank, Trond notices that Jon is acting very strangely. The lives of both families then become intertwined through a series of circumstances and choices.

Because the majority of the movie consists of the flashback scenes, Skarsgård isn’t in the movie has much as people might think he is. The heart of the movie really lies with young Trond, who has to grow up very quickly that summer, as he learns some harsh life lessons.

Ranes makes an impressive film debut in this role, since his character goes through the biggest transformation during his adolescence in the story. He perfectly captures the angst, vulnerability and bravado of a teenager going through some experiences that will impact him for the rest of his life.

As the older Trond looking back on his younger years, Skarsgård does a fine job as someone coming to terms with his past. By the end of the movie, it’s very clear why Trond has spent most of his life suppressing his emotions and why he has reached a point where he wants to become a recluse.

The movie’s direction, cinematography (by Rasmus Videbæk) and production design (by Jørgen Stangebye Larsen) expertly craft the emotional and physical contrasts of the worlds inhabited by young Trond and older Trond. The world of young Trond is brighter, bigger and filled with more hope and possibilities. The world of older Trond is cold, dark and lonely.

“Out Stealing Horses” is a solid movie that does a very good visual interpretation of the novel. Although the character of Trond is a specific person, the movie’s themes about family dynamics and childhood memories can resonate with many people.

Magnolia Pictures released “Out Stealing Horses” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 7, 2020. The movie was released in Europe in 2019.

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