This is one review I need to get off my chest. Although, being a sci-fi fan, I generally tend to be more entertained by features like The Fifth Element (1997), I must even so pronounce The Big Blue to be Luc Besson’s best movie. It is masterfully directed in every detail, and tells a completely unique and beautiful tale. It is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Jean-Marc Barr is realizing the role of his life as the dolphin man Jacques Mayol, who is more at home in the water than in the world of men. Jean Reno, too, is acting his heart out as the semi-obnoxious but good-hearted Italian diving champion, Enzo Molinari, constantly with his younger brother in tow as an assistant. Rosanna Arquette also is at the height of her career here as the flustered New Yorker whose life is torn apart by her love for Mayol. These characters are so impeccably and convincingly fleshed-out that you are drawn completely into their world.
It begins when Jacques and Enzo are children on the shores of the Mediterranean, already very fond of diving. A traumatic experience ties them together, but they don’t meet again until they’re adults. Enzo has become the world champion of free-diving, having beaten everyone worth beating, except one. So he sends Jacques a plane ticket with an invitation to the free-diving championship in Italy, so they can finally find out, in all friendliness, which one of them can dive deepest. Jacques doesn’t really care about the championship, but indulges Enzo for the sake of their friendship. Of course, after a party with a lot of champagne, the jovial rivalry does get going for real.
The movie offers up a lot of dramatic moments. The other divers in the competition start reaching their limits, and as we knew it would be, it’s all down to Enzo and Jacques in the end. Jacques is almost an alien to the surface world, and he is drawn to the siren call of the deep, wanting most of all to just stay down there. Enzo ends up learning to see things the same way. It is a breathtaking story in more ways than one, and it makes a deep impression.
Did I mention how great – nay, iconic – Jean Reno is? It’s hard for me to watch him in anything else without feeling that, deep down, he is really Enzo. It is by far his strongest character portrayal, and considering the other great parts he has played, that’s saying something.
The Big Blue has been done in so many different versions that every time I watch it, it seems to be different. There are at least three versions with different runtimes (one of them being a director’s cut), and most are available in both French and English. More than ten years ago, only having the movie on a standard VHS (English version), I actually went to a special cinema screening of the long version, even though it was in French without subtitles. Now, of course, I have the DVD version, which has the long one in both French and English. It is the English version that I have become used to and therefore prefer. I recently watched the director’s cut version on the Danish Blu-ray release in the French version (rather scandalously the only one on it), but found myself longing for the charming accents of the English-language variant. I’ll definitely hold on to my DVD version. Even in the longest version I don’t think the movie is needlessly drawn out; the story and the world it is set in are so appealing that I cannot get enough of them.
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno, Rosanna Arquette, and others
Runtime: 168 min.