There is a charming naivety to Pete Fletcher and Tom Hudson, two men in their mid-thirties who despite their limited sailing experience set out in a refurbished plywood rowboat to trek the North Atlantic Ocean in documentary Fish Out of Water.
Director, writer, producer and Swiss-army-knife-of-the-film Israel Cannan does not waste any opportunity showing Pete and Tom being out of their depth, with Fish Out of Water positioning the two as cheeky blokes from the Mornington Peninsula who fear a spiritual death within a corporate environment more than death out on the unforgiving ocean.
From the get-go, we see the duo as a white speck against angry grey waters that blend in with the sky. The cracking thunder and winds shrieking like a boiling kettle heightening the isolation felt by the amateur sailors who must be alert to the knowledge that they may be unable to be rescued should danger arise.
The 3000-mile trek from New York to London is one of body and mind. The body, being a feat of strength that sees the two battle torrential weather, rough seas, and extreme hunger. The mind, concerning itself with the duo’s fear of complacency and other existential struggles experienced by successful middle-aged white men that can afford to support such an elaborate endeavour.
Pete and Tom’s relaxed attitude, regarded by sailors as ignorance, is an enthralling frustration, though seems to be dialled up when seeing how confident the boys are as they take to water. This desire to create a sense of struggle from men who live comfortable lives feels like a big reach from a film that is clearly inspired by the duo’s carefree response to hardships.
However positively, or not, you take to Pete and Tom’s motivations will not subtract from Cannan’s tightly wound direction that stays on as tight of a course as the voyage to England does.
Fish Out of Water is wondrously paced. Where the film could have stayed in the doldrums focusing on character motivations, it allows events to occur organically and for the audience to experience all the feelings felt by Pete and Tom – ranging from the rush of watching a symphony of dolphins dancing above water to the drawbacks of living in a dizzy delirium.
Fish Out of Water is triumphant filmmaking anchored by crisp visuals, quality pacing and tight direction that rises above its characters self-important displacency.
Image: Fish Out of Water (production still)