I'm not quite sure what makes us Norwegians more proud, Thor Heyerdahl's renowned Kon-Tiki expedition itself, or the fact that his documentary from the same expedition won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1951. The only thing I am sure of is that for the makers of this dramatization, pride and awe played a major part - at least more so than depth and character did. Because although Kon-Tiki looks fantastic, highlighted by the superb open ocean shots which give the film breathtaking visuals as well as an at times wonderful spatial quality, the story about Thor Heyerdahl and his crew doesn't feel as relevant and vigorous as it should have, neither on a personal level or in a wider context.
The film is about bravery, manhood and adventure, but it only scratches the surface in all these areas. One reason is that the supporting characters aren't sufficiently brought to life, but instead seem like puppets on Heyerdahl's string. They act and react according to his and the plot's need, and the largely inexperienced performers don't have the depth to give them the necessary essence, something which is imperative for the drama unfolding on the raft. And Mr. Heyerdahl himself, despite well cast with the talented Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, remains semi-interesting throughout. His personal life is portrayed in little more than a dutiful manner, with the lifeless Agnes Kittelsen being of little help as Heyerdahl's wife. Moreover, as the film alternates between being action-driven and dialogue-driven, it also alternates between effective and ineffective. As delivered by these performers, the dialogue feels both too modern and too contrived. It lacks class, drive and urgency.
The result is a film that never quite makes the impression it should have. All the exteriors are in place, but contrary to many recent historical accounts, which seem to have been made with too little distance to its subject matter, Kon-Tiki film feels as though it was made by people with too much distance to the people and time in question. Add to that a couple of awkward choices made for the sake of dramatization (the untruthful realization of the Watzinger character), there is an ocean of distance (pun intended) between the virtue of this film and Heyerdahl's work.