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Sinking Into Despair

Jeremy Pelzer/Pinewood Pictures

Pressure (2015)

Most of us don’t spend our time thinking about the world’s infrastructure. We turn a button on the stove; and there is gas with which to cook dinner. “Pressure” is about the men who are on the front line of making that happen. That front line happens to be at the bottom of the ocean, where they travel in submersibles only loosely tethered to larger ships. They walk in diving suits along the sea floor to do underwater welding, if necessary. This is an amazing place to work; and the underwater setting, at the edge of human endurance, is a great place for telling an interest story. Unfortunately “Pressure” buckles.

Three of the men, bitter Engel (Danny Huston), churchy team leader Mitchell (Matthew Goode) and drunkard Hurst (Alan McKenna, who co-wrote the script with Paul Staheli) have done this all before and know each other too well. They give Jones (Joe Cole) a shot on account of his dad. They are all sent to the seabed of the Indian Ocean to assess some pipeline damage by the corporation for which they work. One problem leads to another; and the men are stranded. The whole film is the story as to whether some, all or none of them will make it back to the surface.

The purpose of the film is not so much the impressive underwater scenes, but an examination of the different types of masculinity and how those types are faring in this difficult modern world. Engel has never come to terms with the death of his fiancée some years ago; Hurst’s relationship with his son has brought him nothing but sorrow; Jones is jealous that the rest of the crew knew his dad better than he ever did; and Mitchell has to decide if his faith is truly the thing which best sustains him. The speechifying doesn’t work, though — which is a shame. All of the actors — especially Mr. Huston — have voices you could listen to all day. What do work in the script are the subtle tweaks of stereotypes, such as the corporations’ investment in its employees, the photo of Jones’s wife and baby son and whether a ship which hears their distress call will come through. This teasing of audience expectations does more to reveal character than any moralizing ever could.

Director Ron Scalpello, who is relatively new on the British film scene, has a lighter touch with the underwater sequences. Most of the film takes place in the cramped submersible where you don’t feel trapped, which is a fine achievement. Most impressive is the sequence where Jones swims out with his extremely naked girlfriend (Gemita Samarra) and what happens with the kiss they share. It’s beautiful, sexy and horrifying all at once; and this remarkable sequence shot by Richard Mott — who mainly has worked in television — kicks the film up a level.

Sadly, this is the only part of the film that features a woman; and other than a few voice mail messages, women are seen and not heard. Wouldn’t an exploration of masculinity have been slightly more interesting if it was in contrast to an actual woman onboard? It might have put a stop of the speechifying and showed that actions do speak louder than words.


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