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Review: McConaughey, Van Sant lost in ‘Sea of Trees’

Well, the scenery is nice, at least

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

As a portrait of a marriage gone woefully awry, “The Sea of Trees” has some poignant, eye-opening moments that show how quickly the big picture can get lost in a sea of underhanded squabbling.

Sadly, that’s not really what “The Sea of Trees” is about. “The Sea of Trees” is itself lost, a part domestic drama, part metaphysical fantasy, part terminal illness weepie where you spend more than half the movie wondering if the lead character is even alive.

That lead character is Matthew McConaughey, turning in solid work despite the odds stacked against him. He plays Arthur, who when we first meet him is boarding a plane to Tokyo with no bags and no return flight.

He’s headed to Japan’s “Suicide Forest,” which rests at the base of Mount Fuji (and was the setting for this year’s forgettable horror dud “The Forest”). He’s there to take his life, but when he meets a man wandering the forest (Ken Watanabe), he makes it his mission to help him get out alive.

In flashbacks, we see Arthur’s marriage to Joan (Naomi Watts, electric in a small role), who undercuts Arthur every chance she gets. It’s second nature to her at this point. Their marriage feels worthy of further exploration in a better film.

Back in the forest, Arthur takes a mean tumble off the side of a cliff and wait, just gets up from it and walks away? How does that work? The leaps of logic here are just as absurd, as the once-great director Gus Van Sant seems unsure of what kind of movie he’s making or what he’s trying to say. It’s best to just enjoy the scenery and look the other way.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

Twitter: @grahamorama

‘The Sea of Trees’

GRADE: C

Rated R: for mature thematic material, some disturbing images and brief strong language

Running time: 110 minutes