5 Movies Like The Burning Sea (2021)

Staff & contributors

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, David Maybrick, Fiona Skinner, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Janie Dee, Jeremy Northam, Jessica Fostekew, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Michael James, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Duval, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair, Vinta Morgan, Will Barton

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

In Compartment Number 6, two different people strike an unlikely friendship during a train ride from Moscow to Murmansk. One is Laura, a Finnish student looking to observe ancient rock carvings at their destination, and the other is Ljoha, a gruff miner who hopes to secure a job once there. While the pair are initially unable to get on the same page, their friction eventually lends way to curiosity and empathy, especially as they learn more about each other and life itself.

It’s a great film to put on if you’re a fan of smart but subdued movies like the Before trilogy and Lost in Translation, and there is a lot to mine beyond their already-rich conversations, especially in terms of class and romance. It’s little wonder then that this delightful two-hander shares the 2021 Grand Prix award with another brilliant piece of art, Asghar Farhadi's A Hero.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Denis Pyanov, Dinara Drukarova, Galina Petrova, Konstantin Murzenko, Natalia Drozd, Polina Aug, Seidi Haarla, Sergey Agafonov, Tomi Alatalo, Valeriy Nikolaev, Yuliya Aug, Yuriy Borisov

Director: Juho Kuosmanen

Rating: R

When Mikey Saber’s porn career takes a dip in California, he returns to an estranged wife in Texas, where he meets new and old friends alike and attempts to rebuild his life through a couple of odd jobs. Though Mikey eventually earns his keep, his vanity and eagerness to succeed at all costs threaten to get the best of him.

All this happens against a vibrant backdrop of local sights, beautifully lit and framed by director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine). Quaint, naturalistic, and ever-so-subtly political, Red Rocket is another great entry into Baker’s impressions of the vexed American Dream.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bree Elrod, Ethan Darbone, Karren Karagulian, Shih-Ching Tsou, Simon Rex, Suzanna Son

Director: Sean Baker

, 2021

Palmer may not be treading new ground, but it does tackle relevant themes with impressive sensitivity. With Palmer (Justin Timberlake), it reveals the stigma that haunts ex-convicts well after they’ve redeemed themselves. And with Sam (a charming Ryder Allen), it brings to light the heartbreaking and often dangerous bigotry queer children face. These are heavy issues, but Palmer takes them on with the utmost care and compassion. Though it reads cheesy at times, the sweetness is a welcome note considering the more tragic turns narratives like this tend to take. Empathetic and hopeful, Palmer is a pleasant enough film about second chances and found families.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alisha Wainwright, Carson Minniear, Charmin Lee, Craig Sheffer, Dane Rhodes, Dean Winters, Hero Hunter, J.D. Evermore, Jake Brennan, Jesse C. Boyd, June Squibb, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Lance E. Nichols, Nicholas X. Parsons, Ray Gaspard, Ryder Allen, Stacie Davis, Stephen Louis Grush, Theodus Crane, Wynn Everett

Director: Fisher Stevens

Rating: R

Just in time for Halloween, Netflix has shelled out for a new, high production value doc about demonic possession. It has all the right ingredients: a true story (that of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as the "Devil Made Me Do It" case of 1981), some convincing re-enactments, the air of exclusivity (use of real archives), but it still feels like a let-down to the true horror buffs who'd tune in expecting something fresh. After all, Netflix has been in the game for a while and it's not a good look to settle for something as mediocre. For The Devil on Trial, it seems like the execs have just upped the budget on a regular cable-TV-haunted-house after hours special and then patted themselves on the back. Even the interviews featured are full of cliches, which strips down the horrifying potential of authenticity.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Arne Cheyenne Johnson, Tony Spera

Director: Chris Holt

Rating: R