Sons of the Sea is a timely crime mystery drama thriller about two small-time poachers who get caught up in a dangerous game when they stumble upon a dying man in a hotel room. Abalone (perlemoen) smuggling continues to be an issue in Cape Town’s seas with overfishing being a global threat. While contentious, the ocean’s rich resources become a thoughtful leverage point for this A Simple Plan style seaside caper. Carey McKenzie’s film Cold Harbour tapped into the issue, following a smuggler’s turf war involving police corruption. Dialing it back from an ensemble police procedural to something more intimate, haunting and in-your-face, Sons of the Sea takes a timely and entertaining examination of the issue from a dramatic standpoint.
Centred on Gabe and Michail, one brother convinces the other to keep a dead Triad smuggler’s abalone stash for themselves. When Gabe’s girlfriend finds out and a corrupt government official sees an opportunity to fix his dire financial situation, they’re forced on the run. The “bag of money” storytelling device is always promising, setting up an often cautionary tale of morality as characters try to justify their actions, offering some pretty compelling excuses for their lapse in integrity. Greed is the cornerstone of the genre, something that’s difficult to see in the mirror and brandishing the love of money – roots and all.
Making for a captivating character study, writer-director John Gutierrez has composed a simple yet effective drama in this channel, influenced by the Mexican legend of ‘El Mechudo’. Roberto Kyle and Marlon Swarts tackle the tale of two brothers, supported by the fresh-faced Nicole Fortuin and the prolific Brendon Daniels. Kyle has racked up many screen credits already, getting a chance to star as a conscientious young man with a bright future and a bad influence in Sons of the Sea. His more street smart brother, Michail, is the instigator while Gabe plays lookout on their poaching expeditions – discovering that hauling in “the big one” is too much for both of them.
“Don’t make me come over there…”
Kyle’s innocence-corrupted works well as he pushes and pulls against Swarts in a feature film debut. Gutierrez keeps the heat on these smalltime criminals as easy money turns into a landslide of problems. Brendon Daniels is often cast as a cop, detective or gangster, creating Peterson, a role where he can be all simultaneously as a bent government official. Nicole Fortuin immerses herself in the part as a doting girlfriend, Tanya, and while her character could have had more focus, she represents the hope and promise of Gabe’s future. Aiming for more naturalistic performances, things are downplayed and geared towards realism.
Set in the picturesque seaside villages of Simon’s Town and Kalk Bay, one wonders why these film locations aren’t used more often. Riding with Sugar made use of this wonderful stretch of coastline where train tracks split mountain from sea while Sons of the Sea entrenches itself in the villages and mountainous region. Relying on the Lord Nelson, the surrounding alleys and streets add a sense of authenticity. Gutierrez avoids a manufactured feel, opting for real untainted backdrops with a focus on his actors and portraying the complex lives of the characters. An artful eye, the cinematography captures some wonderful shots of the False Bay area whilst retaining its stark and sombre mood. Using art, history and the sea as a metaphor, it’s entrenched in layers of meaning around colonialism with rich dialogue creating further contrasts.
Sons of the Sea has understated suspense and intrigue, hinting at deeper meaning and economic, ecological and socio-political issues. Offering a more restrained depiction of events on all fronts, it’s more subtle than other films of its ilk. This allows for greater nuance and a sense of realism but does tend to soften the edgier moments. Moving at a good pace without seeming rushed, it’s an authentic film experience, even for those familiar with the film locations. In spite of checking in at a brisk 82 minute running time, the impact value is dulled. While thoughtful, the cautionary tale does get somewhat lost in the wilderness of the third act. Perhaps a stronger connection with Gabe or the introduction of greater antagonistic tension would have made all the difference. As it stands, Sons of the Sea is a commendable, noble, resourceful, spirited and thoughtful homegrown “bag of money” drama that distinguishes itself but struggles to power home.
The bottom line: Reflective