Movie Review: In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
“Based on the incredible true story that inspired Moby-Dick”
In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson
Synopsis: The story of the Essex, a whaling ship that ran afoul of a giant whale, and which provided the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Marrying the virile swagger of a youthful John Wayne to the bass-baritone of Brad Roberts, Chris Hemsworth (Rush, Star Trek Into Darkness) strides the decks of the ill-fated whaling ship Essex in Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea, an earnest account of the true events that inspired Herman Melville to write his monumental saga, Moby Dick. Many people who’ve heard of the book will have had no idea that it has its origins in truth, but such is the case, and it’s a story that receives a respectful, if bloodless, treatment from Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt, who adds to his history of functional but uninspired work.
Sailing out of 1820s Nantucket Island, the Essex is captained by the relatively inexperienced George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), much to the chagrin of Owen Chase (Hemsworth), an old hand whose employers have reneged on their promise of a captaincy until he has served as Pollard’s first mate on this voyage. That might not seem like a big deal, until one considers that the average voyage lasts for 2-3 years, and will take Chase from his pregnant wife. While Chase is big enough to set his resentment aside, Pollard is so keen to assert his authority that he clashes with his first mate almost immediately. But this confrontation, which looks like becoming a key plot strand, serves only as a zero point from which their growing mutual respect is measured after the Essex runs afoul of a giant sperm whale that assumes the role of predator over those who seek to kill it.
The way that pods of whales skim the surface of a dazzling CGI sea like playful dolphins in In the Heart of the Sea makes it kind of difficult to view the occupation of whale fisherman as a noble one, no matter how insignificant and fragile the whale boats might appear by comparison to the creatures, and its difficult not to feel a little smug at the way that Pollard and his crew have the tables turned upon them when the abnormally large whale deliberately smashes into the hull of the Essex. But the film’s pre-occupation with spectacle – colossal whales, towering, storm-tossed waves beneath apocalyptic storm clouds, and so on – comes at the expense of characterisation. The whale is never anything more than an unthinking beast, and, with the exception of Pollard and Chase, the crew of the Essex are only a rung or two above it. Ironically, the titanic action thriller promised by the trailer ebbs away after that bruising encounter to become an anaemic study of the struggle for survival against the unforgiving elements waged by a group of men about whom we know very little, and who are no more familiar to us at the end of their ordeal than they were at its beginning.
(Reviewed 10th July 2016)