True Spirit Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
What should have been an inspirational adventure about courage, spirit & faith in oneself, falls absolutely flat thanks to a tedious script.
Genre: Adventure / Biography / Drama
Director: Sarah Spillane
Cast: Teagan Croft, Cliff Curtis, Anna Paquin, Josh Lawson, Alyla Browne, Bridget Webb, Vivien Turner, Stacy Clausen & Todd Lasance
Run Time: 109 min.
US Release: 03 February 2023 (Netflix)
UK Release: 03 February 2023 (Netflix)
German Release: 03 February 2023 (Netflix)
A new week, a new Netflix release. To tell the truth, this is not a production I was looking forward to watching; the trailer didn’t do it for me, with everything looking like a cheap coming-of-age Disney TV movie, and my instincts did not let me down! What did finally sway my opinion to see it, is the story that I remember following back in 2010. Unfortunately, the end result is so diluted, plus injected with artificial drama, that this real-life adventure does not feel authentic anymore. So, grab a whiskey, sit down comfortably, and let's get into my review for True Spirit!
Stubborn Australian teenager Jessica Watson, chases her dreams while facing her fears, as she sets her sights on becoming the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world. With many expecting her to fail, Jessica is highly motivated to prove them wrong.
The Screenplay is truly amongst the weakest aspects of the whole premise, having been adapted from Watson’s own memoirs, published under the same name. The script has been modified to appeal to a family-friendly environment. Yes, the core message is kept intact, however, by diminishing the dangers at sea, just like shifting a lot of the focus on her family at land, it robbed the premise of the real accomplishment achieved by the young Australian.
Don’t get me wrong! The idea to showcase the family coping with their teenage daughter, circumventing the world alone on water, has a nice touch but the focus should have lied more on Jessica. Instead, we get a whole bunch of scenes that rob the narrative of tension, making for tediously long segments, substituted with laughably bad, unnatural drama. Not only is it disrespectful of her accomplished achievements, it also hurts the legacy of young Walters, as those soap-opera-like moments make the factual premise feel fake.
Finally, my biggest gripe with the script is the flashbacks, which are meant to flesh out Jessica, her dyslexia, and her motivation to become the youngest person to sail around the globe. Sadly none of those scenes go deep into the matter, scratching barely the surface. A wasted potential, which again steals screen-time, from the actual voyage.
The dialogues are kept PG clean, containing quite an amount of cheese at times, bloated with exaggerated comments that don't sound genuine. The voice-over at the beginning is very cliché, used to dump high amounts of expositions fast! That said, the monologues on the webcam, as well as the breakdowns, did contain something raw.
Young Australian actress Teagan Croft portrays Jessica Watson, doing a pretty damn good job, given that she is mostly on her own in most scenes. Croft has been preparing for her role by taking advice from Watson herself. The breakdown due to isolation is probably the actress' most purest moment, showing her performing range.
Cliff Curtis’ character Ben Bryant, is a wholly fictional person. According to producers, as well as Jessica herself, he was created to embody everyone that had helped her along her path to achieving her goals. Bryant is a solitary person, lacking basic social skills, yet has a good connection and chemistry with Croft’s character. Curtis had his moments, though I did see him act better in other roles.
Finally, we have Anna Paquin plus Josh Lawson, portraying parents Julie and Roger Watson respectively. Both of them give mediocre performances, sounding mostly as if they are reading cue cards. It was shocking to see both of them with so little passion - especially Lawson, who gave an energetic performance as Kano in 2021’s Mortal Kombat.
Camera-wise, cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann created a very bland-looking movie. Most scenes are overlit, though, using an appealing spectrum of warm colours. The very few action segments are helmed well enough. Editing-wise, a fair amount of intercuts are being used, as well as flashbacks, to try to flesh out the main character - yet to no avail.
The effects in True Spirit are a mixed bag. The storms at sea were well rendered, presumably through the use of CGI, while the star-spangled reflection of the night sky on the calm sea, looked breathtakingly beautiful. However, it also contained some shockingly bad computer-animated dolphins, just like some of the worst green screen I have seen in the last couple of years.
Apart from the terrible screenplay, the choice of music does the film no favour at all. Packed with cheesy pop songs from the early 2000s, the atmosphere it sets is that of a cheap TV teenage drama flick.
Verdict: I am aware that I am in the minority here, but I do believe that the accomplishment of a young teenager, who sailed solo around the world, has been diluted to create a safe, Disney-like family appropriate film, which does not do Jessica Watson’s legacy justice! Spillane’s picture genuinely feels lacklustre and too long for its 109 minutes of runtime. The story focuses so much on staying family-friendly, losing focus on portraying actual struggles at sea. It also cuts away too often from the voyage, to show how the family on land cope with the situation. The dialogue is clichéd and cheesy, but Teagan Croft gives a solid performance as the lead character. The cinematography is okay, if not a little bland, the effects on the other hand, are at times terrible! Given that the feature is based on a real achievement, I had hoped for far more. As it stands, I can’t give True Spirit more than a 4.0 out of 10.
So, have you seen Sarah Spillane’s newest feature yet? What did you think? Agree with my review? Leave a comment below, & let’s start a nice discussion. As always, thank you for reading!