The closing night film at the Mikwaukee Film Festival was The Surface. It was a fitting movie because it was filmed entiry in and around Milwaukee. It employed a lot of the local film community as part of the crew. Not to mention that screenwriter Jeff Gendelman is from Milwaukee. So, what better place to have the world premiere then right here at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
The Surface is about a man Mitch (Sean Astin) who feels like everything in his life is going wrong. He takes his dad's boat out into the middle of Lake Michigan to end his life. But before he can do anything he comes across a crashed plane with the pilot Kelly (Chris Mulkey) still alive. After Mitch rescues Kelly and the two are now stranded in Mitch's boat, because when Mitch hit the plane wreckage it broke the boats prop. Their relationship is strained at first. Kelly doesn't trust Mitch and both of them have secrets. But as time goes on and their chances of being rescued diminish the two realize they need each other.
There is so much that could have gone wrong with this movie. It's about two guys stuck in the middle of a lake. It could have been boring, could have been shaky and made people sea sick, or the two leads could have had no chemistry. But luckily the movie defied the odds. Everything works.
Gendelman who worked on the script for over 10 years fined tuned it so it was bare bones and had just the right amount of dialogue and reveals. It could have easily turned into a boring movie about two people talking to each other. But instead it managed to keep the tension while these two guys figure each other out. The cinematography is also spot on. It really adds to the feeling of isolation and disorientation. The lake looks beautiful as does the Milwaukee skyline. A lot of work was put into getting the best shots on the lake and it shows. That brings us to the cast. Sean and Chris do an incredible job. And based on what they said at the Q&A it was under some pretty harsh circumstances. Their chemistry is great. Each of them plays off the other one perfectly. It's so much fun to watch the two of them.
It is the themes that the movie brings up that makes the whole thing stand out. I don't want to give away any of the reveals but the movie is mostly about depression and needing a reason to live. This is the second movie I saw at the festival that handled depression well (The Other One also had themes of depression). Here we get to see a man so desperate he wants to kill himself but hasn't had any success and something has always thwarted it. But now he meets a man who only wants to live and he is forced to reevaluate his life. The movie captures that feeling of confusion and desperation and we get to see his transformation.