After creating from scratch two breathtaking metaphysical thrillers in a row -- "Open Your Eyes" and "The Others") -- writer, director and composer Alejandro Amenábar's return to the big screen is rather disappointing: "The Sea Inside" is little more than a routine disease-of-the-week biopic.
Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls") gives a tour-de-force performance as quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro, who, after 30 years in bed, wishes to die with dignity, but the film never shows any indignity. In fact, his life looks pretty good under the circumstances. He has beautiful women -- a lawyer (Belén Rueda) and a local woman (Lola Dueñas) who was inspired by Ramon's television appearance -- fawning over him, and a book of his poetry has just been published.
Amenábar manages one great scene in which Sampedro argues with a wheelchair bound priest, sending a messenger up and down the stairs with sacrilegious pronouncements. Otherwise the movie wishes only to make a soapbox stand about whether or not humans have the right to decide our own deaths, and never comes to terms with the how or why. It's very simple and streamlined, and all that's left is Bardem's bid for Oscar glory, emoting from his bed using only his eyes and his voice.
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