Definately not what I was expecting from a film about Moses, but hey, Lars von Trier is nothing if not unconventional... or a little messed up in the head. Based on the title, this film really does sound like it could be either a Moses film or an Asian kung-fu film, but either way, both subject matters promise a really, really long film. Man, those Asians sure love their overlong action films, almost as much as Lars von Trier loves overlong, well, anything, with the obvious exception of extended traveling. I don't know what he's so worried about, because, I don't know about you guys, but if Emily Watson ever looks at me, I think that my ability to fear will peak, because she's got some crazy eyes. Okay, maybe they're not that freaky; in fact, in Waton's youth, those eyes were actually pretty pretty, but they're still so bizarrely distant that I pretty much was expecting her to, somewhere along the way in this film, end up in the water and high for some reason, so that her pupils would dilate and she really would break the waves, shark style. Hey, after a while of sitting through this film, you too will be hoping for a dumb shift in events like that, just so that something would happen. Oh well, jokes aside, this film's title is actually pretty amazing, and certainly better than the film itself, which isn't to say that this film isn't enjoyable, because it is ultimately a film reasonably worth sitting through, but boy, do you have to sit for a long while.
At just under 160 minutes, the film is certainly a lengthy watch, though as you would probably guess from the fact that this is a Lars von Trier film, that length isn't so much long as it is overlong. Well, sure enough, this film takes its sweet time, of which, it appears to have plenty, as much of the padding in this film is very considerable, with overdrawn scenes of nothingness and immense repetition being found, not here and there, but almost throughout the film, and it really slows down the film's momentum, if it had any to begin with. Lars von Trier isn't really a bad storyteller, though his methods are certainly flawed, especially with this film, as he tells the story very dryly, manipulating the immense looseness of the film to emphasize meditativeness, when really, it only emphasizes von Trier's limpness as a storyteller, thus creating a distance with the story flow, thus creating some sort of emotional distance. Von Trier takes a realist approach with this film, attempting to restrain considerable inspiration and tightness in his storytelling in order to plunge you deeper into this world on a deliberate and human level, when really, the film simply comes off as boring and rather arrogant, partially because the illusion of humanity through non-flashy storytelling is, well, a flawed and pretty pretentious method that can't work if you put minimal effort into storytelling, but also because the film's visual style is distinctly cinematic, seeing as how it's so distinctly amateur. Well, maybe Robby Müller's cinematography isn't so much amateur as much as it's overstylized to the point of being just plain pretty bad, as it attempts to give the film a faithfully cold realist look, only to end up giving the film a profoundly bland lack of color - made more glaring by sometimes too unsteady and messy photography staging - that just looks kind of unattractive and, certainly, expands the emotional distance. The film's storytelling methods are certainly unique, to a certain extent, yet they are also naturally flawed, and unless they're compensated for, they can ruin, if not just plain destroy a film, and sure enough, this film collapses as not simply underwhelming, but just plain boring, and that's death for certain films of this type. However, this film does not collapse to ruin, let alone to total destruction, for although it should be more inspired than it is and with less problematic storytelling methods, it ultimately pulls through the dullness and distancing to stand as a watchable film, messy though, it may be.
Even if a film's execution of a strong story isn't as good as it should be, a strong story concept can go a long way, and while this film's story isn't terribly stellar, or even all that terribly original, it's still worthy and fascinating, with complexities and depth that may not go played up all that much by Lars von Trier, as director, but can be noticed enough within the film's concept to earn your attention, and by extension, your investment. Lars von Trier's under-inspired direction really does drag this film down considerably, yet would have dragged it down further were it not for the fact that the story upon which this film lazily focuses isn't tainted terribly by faulty execution, and is worthy enough for you to be hard pressed to not be a little bit interested. Where von Trier's storytelling could have brought this film to a downfall, the worthiness of the story leaves the final product to transcend almost to the point of decent, while what secures the final product's being above mediocre is, of course, the acting. Now, the performances aren't consistently sparkling, yet they are consistently impressive, with the leads having more than a few very high high spots in their engrossing performances. Stellan Skarsgård captures his Jan Nyman characters' initial down-to-earth good-heartedness with smooth, human charm, yet when tragedy strikes and changes Nyman's life forever and for the worse, Skarsgård crushes with an intense presence of anguish and uncertainty as he endures the impossible and ponders upon the unthinkable, thus leaving him to change into a different and more disturbed person, and while such a performance is mainly written to be rather restrained, when Skarsgård delivers, he cuts deep and leaves you fully locked into Nyman as a fully realized and struggling man. As for leading lady Emily Watson, for her debut role, she, on the other hand, is consistently presented material and consistent in not letting that go to waste, as her Bess McNeill is a disturbed but well-intentioned soul suffering from overwhelming fear and tainted by her own overwhelming affections, which she shall put to the test by placing herself through many self-destructive struggles and challenges, and watching Watson portray such a layered and disturbed character with such raw emotional intensity and believability truly is an experience that's both heartbreaking and rewarding. The film is so limp so frequently, to where it could never be bad, but not likely to be good either, yet what keeps this film from collapsing is the worthiness of its story and the engrossing intensity in the performances, particularly that of Emily Watson, whose heart-wrenching portrayal of a disturbed and perhaps - nay - decidedly too committed romantic carries this film and marked the debut of a strong talent who can help in making messy projects such as these to state of being generally worth the watch.
Overall, the film is immensely overdrawn, with near-endless redundant and repetitious material dragging the film down, while Lars von Trier's overly steady, limp and even rather arrogant direction, combined with Robby Müller's overstylized and bland cinematography, dulls the film down and distances its emotional resonance, until the final product finds itself crawling along as underwhelming, though not to the point of eventually collapsing as anything less than decent, as a consistent degree of engagement value goes spawned from a worthy story, brought to life by a myriad of inspired performances, with Stellan Skarsgård delivering a mostly restrained but ultimately piercing performance, and a then-newcoming Emily Watson delivering a consistently powerful lead performance that makes for a strong debut and helps greatly in making "Breaking the Waves" (Man, that title is awesome) an ultimately watchable and generally engaging drama, regardless of its being tainted by its own ambitions.
2.5/5 - Fair