San Francisco Chronicle

"The Quake" It's a modest victory for quality over quantity.

There's nothing inherently wrong about attempting a character-driven disaster movie. But here, there may be more agitation going on inside the stressed-out hero than in the film's long-delayed eruption of special effects.

A Norwegian geologist frets and stews at great length about a calamitous earthquake that he alone foresees, then tries to save his family from the catastrophe that's bringing down the city of Oslo.

There's a reason why Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), is an emotional wreck — he's been traumatized by an earlier quake that devastated the town of Geiranger in western Norway. He responded heroically and saved many lives, but the event left permanent emotional scars.

As the story begins, Kristian is living in seclusion, having alienated not only his wife (Ane Dahl Torp) but also, by virtue of his fixation on the possibility of another geological upheaval, his scientific colleagues. He's so bent out of shape that he even sends away his adoring daughter soon after she arrives for a visit.

Joner is a capable actor, but he's required to remain for such a long time in a one-note condition of mental fragility that our sympathy for the character starts to give way to exasperation.

Director John Andreas Andersen leans too heavily on the plot device of placing our hero in an antagonistic relationship with the establishment scientists. His warnings are repeatedly rejected because of his instability.

Although the film often falls back on conventional story mechanics, Andersen is able to inject some dramatic heft by making the quake an opportunity for Kristian to heal and reunite his family.

So, when the quake finally happens, is it worth the long wait? Although the sequence is short, the special effects depiction of Oslo's high-rises collapsing is pretty effective, given that the film clearly lacked the budget of major studio disaster pictures.