Animal rights sensitivity was not a major concern in the late 1940s, and the joyous volition with which the men gut the enemy shark reminded me of a similar scene in a film made in 1956 by Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle, “The Silent World.” As in that French docudrama, “Kon-Tiki” reveres, respects and revels in wonder at the ocean, but also takes offense to it when the watery depths commit a seeming injustice. It may be the one aspect of “Kon-Tiki” that feels authentically old-fashioned.
Hagen is a genial leading man, with a Ryan Gosling-meets-Peter O’Toole look. He keeps the character charming and adequately absorbing, without really digging into the inner recesses of a mind obsessed by what was arguably a suicide expedition. His eyes sparkle appropriately when he speaks of the Inca sun god who inspires the mission, but he doesn’t tap the underlying insanity needed for such a role: see Gregory Peck’s Captain Ahab or Klaus Kinski’s Aguirre.
No matter. “Kon-Tiki” aims for dazzling breadth and visual scope, which it achieves, and shoots for depth primarily when filming in the 15-thousand-foot waters the men precariously float upon. What it lacks in character complexity and narrative nuance, it compensates for with booms and thunders of seabound gravitas. Huston, Herzog and even Cousteau and Malle deliver adventures that unsettle us as we watch in awe; "Kon-Tiki" co-directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg entertain us as we reach for popcorn.