Films with strong messages walk a fine line. When you have an idea that pushes action or activism, it needs to be fully explained. Yet, for movies, that can be difficult for dramatic storytellers to accomplish. Oftentimes, this leaves actors scrambling to communicate rather than perform, and the balance can tip the wrong way. In the case of Blueback, from director Robert Connolly, this becomes the struggle of the film. The messages within Blueback are undeniably essential, yet sometimes the overuse of exposition drags the story to a halt.

A young marine biologist named Abby (Mia Wasikowska) receives a difficult phone call while on a research trip. Her mother Dora (Elizabeth Alexander & Radha Mitchell) suffered a stroke. Abby returns home to the small town she was raised in and worked to protect its marine life. As a young girl (Ariel Donoghue/Ilsa Fogg), Abby had befriended a grouper that pushed her into her future career.

Blueback TIFF 2022 Sundance 2023

Much of Blueback puts the audience in the position of watching flashbacks to understand the plot mechanisms. However, cutting between the future and past inherently removes some of the dramatic tension from sequences. While Wasikowska remains one of the best actresses to communicate subtext, Blueback does not seem willing to let much go unsaid. Even when Abby is not actively explaining an incident (which we often see repeated in a flashback), other characters do it for us. It becomes a frustrating cycle, making the 1 hour and 40-minute film feel overly long.

However, the messages and craft on display keep us engaged. The conservation sequences with Fogg and Mitchell are exciting to watch. They also add considerable attention with a younger cast of characters and a more expansive world in the small town. We know that Abby will grow up to become a scientist, but the immediacy of teenage mistakes and decisions provide drama. When teens see their world change, the events can leave seismic marks, and Connolly nails this aspect of Blueback. Connolly also forces Abby to confront her changing world, sometimes to great personal pain.

Additionally, other characters leave indelible marks on the plot. Fogg plays that influence with nuance, evolving her character as Blueback progresses. The introduction of Macka (Eric Bana) provides an ethos for Abby, and Fogg’s transformation says a lot about her as a performer. She not only holds her own when on-screen with famous actors, but she can play off them well. Pedrea Jackson and Albert Mwangi bring Briggs to life in different ways, both showcasing unique and powerful ways that allow us to see the change in Abby. In an ensemble story like Blueback, you need this ability to keep us locked into the story and avoid the stigma of vignette storytelling.

The visual power of Blueback cannot be ignored either. The heart of the film lies with the various iterations of Abby, but the underwater photography shows exactly why Abby fights. Shining lights look gorgeous against the silhouette of boats and fish. While some of the CG does not hold up in these sequences, the reef and live fish create a gorgeous effect on their own.

The power of conservation remains a powerful storytelling tool. Every human has a relationship with nature in every environment. Many others work to save their homes as they exist today. Blueback‘s message makes it impossible to ignore. If we can save our local wildlife, we can save wildlife on a broader level. This is the power of Blueback and why you should bring your family to see it as soon as possible.

Alan’s Rating: 6/10

What do you think of Blueback? Let us know in the comments below! Blueback opens on March 3rd, 2023. Quiver Distribution handles the release of Blueback.

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Blueback TIFF 2022 Sundance 2023

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