The Matthew McConaughey flick, Sea of Trees, a drama about suicide, got a decidedly mixed response at the Cannes Film Festival. On Friday night, when the press screened the movie, they mostly savaged it, and either booed or laughed at it. However, when the movie directed by Gus Van Sant was screened by critics on Saturday night, it was greeted, at the end, by a brief but sweet standing ovation. Still, despite the mixed response the movie received, both groups of screeners seemed to be in agreement that the movie was not Van Sant’s, nor McConaughey’s, best effort, by a long shot.
McConaughey, director Van Sant, and actress Naomi Watts, who also co-stars in Sea of Trees, were on hand during a press conference on Saturday to answer questions. Initially, the press who were gathered there were relatively polite, though some members of the press mentioned that the flick might not be Van Sant’s finest effort.
The director and actors were subdued, perhaps suspecting that, eventually, somebody would bring up the negative response that Sea of Trees had met during its press screening on Friday. That happened, though it took about 30 minutes for someone to broach the subject. That person hedged a bit, saying “I really loved the film,” but adding that some of his “colleagues disagreed with me.”
Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey replied in a tactful manner, saying that audiences had “as much right to boo as they do to ovate.” Director Van Sant responded that when his Palme d’Or-winning movie Elephant was screened in 2003, it had gotten a mixed reaction. He said that the day after the movie was screened, “there were fisticuffs, fighting over whether it was good or bad, actually punching.” He concluded his response by saying, basically, that he did not know if the reaction that a movie received at any particular screening “makes a difference.”
How a wider audience will react to Sea of Trees, when it opens up in movie theaters in the United States on September 9, will be the deciding factor on whether the flick is a flop or a success. However, the mixed reaction it has received at Cannes is not a good sign that the drama will be a box office hit.
Matthew Mcconaughey has grown somewhat accustomed to his movies and T.V. series doing well, of late. Though Dallas Buyers Club was not a tremendous box office success, it did well in the limited amount of theaters it was shown at, and the movie was also greeted well by critics. It earned the actor his first Oscar. His 2014 movie, Interstellar, which was directed by Christopher Nolan, did well at the box office, grossing $187,991,439 domestically, and his T.V. series, True Detective, was both a hit with critics and fans.
In Sea of Trees, Matthew McConaughey plays a suicidal man, Arthur Brennan, who leaves his car at an airport and takes a one-way plane trip to Tokyo. There, he encounters a stranger, Takumi, played by Ken Watanabe, in the Aokigahara woods in Japan. As a result, his character experiences a moment that changes his life, forever. The forest has been called the “suicide forest” and Japan’s “Demon Forest.” There have been 500 confirmed suicides there since the 1950s, with 100 having occurred in recent years.
Matthew McConaughey’s wife, Joan, in Sea of Trees is played by Naomi Watts. The reasons why McConaughey’s character, Arthur, wants to commit suicide are not immediately revealed, but they involve his relationship with his wife, who is an alcoholic. His relationship with her and reasons for wanting to end his life are revealed in a series of flashbacks.
When Matthew McConaughey’s character, Arthur, encounters Takumi, the stranger has had a change of heart about committing suicide after he has slit his wrists. Arthur decides to help the man rather than kill himself. Takumi’s reason for wanting to kill himself is because he has been passed over for a promotion, but he changes his mind after he thinks about his family. Then, the movie changes course, as Arthur goes from being just about to kill himself to helping rescue the stranger that he has met in the forest.
While Matthew McConaughey’s latest movie, Sea of Trees, has received a mixed reaction at Cannes, the varied reaction has been not McConaughey’s fault. His character is fairly well-developed, and even if the movie bombs when it opens in the Untied States, it should not hurt his reputation as an actor. Other characters in Sea of Trees seem to be not as believable, however, like Naomi Watts’ role as Arthur’s wife, Joan, and Ken Watanabe’s portrayal of Takumi. Also, Van Sant’s directing has been criticized. If the movie ends up winning an award at Cannes, perhaps the overall perception of Sea of Trees and its quality will change.
Written By Douglas Cobb
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Indie Wire (blog): Cannes Review: Gus Van Sant’s ‘The Sea Of Trees’
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe & Naomi Watts