This French biopic examines a cultural icon whose reputation has faded in recent years – the pioneering French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, who was world-famous for his sub-aquatic adventures in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In actor Lambert Wilson’s commanding but somewhat aloof performance as Cousteau, we get a sense of a highly driven man, whose gift for self-promotion and conquering the oceans comes into conflict with the burgeoning eco-awareness of his son (Pierre Niney).
Ultimately, this is a portrait of how changing values in society can pass by some of our heroes. The film is good-looking but lacks dramatic oomph and emotional engagement; and it leaves Audrey Tautou struggling in a thankless role as Cousteau senior’s boozy, neglected spouse. Perhaps it’s all more meaningful to French audiences, but since Wes Anderson poked affectionate fun at the Cousteau legacy in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ it’s harder to take seriously.