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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Picture yourself alone on the ocean in a small boat for months. Exhilarating? Terrifying? It was both for the long-distance sailors in the new British documentary "Deep Water."

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN: "Deep Water" is disturbing, unnerving and wire-to-wire involving. It all begins in 1968, when The Sunday Times newspaper sponsors what is billed as the greatest endurance test of all time: a single-handed sail around the world. No stops allowed, dangers at every point of the compass.

(Soundbite of movie, "Deep Water")

Unidentified Man: Once you rounded at the Cape of Good Hope, you were in to the roaring fortress - the endless band of storms that circle the world. Then thousands of miles later, you pass south of Australia, New Zealand, and across the rest of the Pacific to Cape Horn.

TURAN: Almost all of the 10 men who announce they will compete are top-notch sailors. And then there is Donald Crowhurst, an amateur yachtsman and father of four, owner of a floundering marine electronics business, who yearned for bigger things. As his son Simon explains, he needed a challenge, to show who he was - and this, the greatest one possible, compelled him.

The sea, however, was unforgiving. And once Crowhurst began his journey, his lack of preparation time led to serious problems with his boat. He faces the starkest possible choice: risking his life if he continues, financial ruin if he goes back. Period. End of story. Or was it?

(Soundbite of film, "Deep Water")

Mr. DONALD CROWHURST (Yachtsman): The thing about single-handing is it puts a great deal of pressure on the man. It explores his weaknesses with the penetration that very few other occupations can manage.

TURAN: The heart of "Deep Water" is its interviews with the individuals who knew Crowhurst best. They've had decades to think about the story, which makes them candid, articulate and insightful.

If you want to know why documentaries are increasingly capturing audience's imaginations, this is a good place to start. It's a story that couldn't possibly be invented, a tale that has the jaw-dropping twists and reverses only reality can provide.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. See Donald Crowhurst on his boat and a couple of scenes from "Deep Water" at npr.org/movies.

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