'Kon-Tiki': An epic achievement
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
Thor Heyerdahl didn't like water so much, a personality quirk that might prove to be a bit of a nuisance to the average man, but one that seemed positively nutty for an adventurer who earned much of his fame by crossing entire oceans on primitive rafts and boats. Based on the unbelievable true story of Heyerdahl and his Kon-Tiki expedition of 1947, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's Oscar-nominated "Kon-Tiki" follows Heyerdahl (charmingly played by Pål Sverre Hagen) and his merry band of friends and colleagues as they set out to prove the scholar's unpopular diffusionist model of culture development by sailing across 5,000 miles of sea on a raft they built by hand using ancient Incan drawings as veritable blueprints. Though Heyerdahl's mission seemed like a fool's errand at the time, the journey of the Kon-Tiki raft is still considered to be a landmark accomplishment in the field of adventuring, and Rønning and Sandberg have crafted an impressive film worthy of documenting such a tremendous human achievement.
While the traditional school of thought maintains that French Polynesia was populated in a west-to-east migration from the Asian mainland, after visiting the country in the 1930s, Heyerdahl became convinced that it was actually Peruvians who had first settled the islands. Intent on proving that the "primitive" Peruvian culture could accomplish such a feat, Heyerdahl decided to build his own balsa log pae-pae raft and do it for himself. Armed with a loyal crew, some government support and a few modern pieces of technology, Heyerdahl and his crew set out on their 101-day open water adventure in April of 1947. What follows is a breathless, heart-pounding and emotional adventure that makes the history of Heyerdahl feel immediate and surprisingly fresh.
While it would initially seem that Heyerdahl's youthful recklessness would be to blame for the bulk of the endeavor's strife, it's actually the combination of that spirit with his near-blind faith and optimism that prove most dangerous to the Kon-Tiki. Interpersonal tensions and incipient madness inevitably begin to take hold of Heyerdahl and his crew, and Rønning and Sandberg effectively build both fear and hope into the rousing, personality-driven adventure tale. At his lowest moment, Heyerdahl's right-hand man (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), sums up the mission's weaknesses and Thor's character flaws in stunning fashion: "This isn't a religion, Thor; this is insane." Perhaps it was both. Ever-engaging, Hagen delicately balances Heyerdahl's many at-odds traits to create a flawed hero who is not beyond reproach, but who is beyond compare.
"Kon-Tiki" is an unquestionably epic achievement about human tenacity, perseverance and courage. Punctuated by breathtaking cinematography that makes the most of its terrifying and beautiful oceanscapes, a stirring and nuanced original score by Johan Soderqvist, and rich performances from the entire cast, "Kon-Tiki" deserves a place as a new classic of the action-adventure genre.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice Magazine, and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.