Movie Review: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Winshaw, Brendan Gleeson
Plot: Herman Melville meets with the last survivor of the Essex, a whaling ship that sank under dubious circumstances. The survivor refutes the official story of of the ship running aground in favour of a malevolent giant albino whale destroying the ship.
Review: Right off the bat, this concept behind this movie is perplexing. It’s an adaptation of a book telling the story that inspired Moby Dick. Why not make a movie based on Moby Dick? You’ve got the brand name recognition and the legacy, and it’s a story that hasn’t been tackled by a modern film maker. Nonetheless we’re going with this idea, the story of sailors encountering a white whale bookended by Melville researching and writing Moby Dick.
The film, somehow set perpetually during sunset, carries a couple of different plot threads. Son of farmer turned respected whaler Owen Chase is first mate to rich boy first time captain George Pollard, Jr. (Hemsworth and Walker respectively). The two immediately clash in ideologies and class, leading them to frequently argue during the voyage. The whaling industry at the time gets explored for context, but the film is uncertain as to how it wants to portray the hunting of whales, especially with modern audiences generally frowning on the whole business. We go from Hemsworth striking a Thor pose on the prow of his boat, harpoon in hand and hair blowing in the breeze against the sunset while the music swells majestically to a grotesque sequence of the whale being butchered and Tom Holland being forced to crawl inside the carcass to collect blubber. Then there’s the conspiracy surrounding the sinking of the ship, but this is only briefly mentioned as a way to crowbar in Melville.
After about an hour we do get our first encounter with not-Moby Dick, who rather spectacularly demolishes the ship and leaves the crew stranded. This is a genuinely exciting sequence, and is the film’s peak. From this point on the inclusion of the whale staggers belief, true story or not. This is a straight up vigilante Batwhale, intent on hunting down and wiping out all whalers for their crimes. After a month at sea the stranded crew spy land only for the whale to pop out of the water to wreck their shit all over again, with Hemsworth yelling that it has followed them. FOR A MONTH. This whale spent a full month secretly following these boats, waiting for them to approach land so it’s extra hurtful when he attacks again. And then he pulls this stunt another two months later. This whale is straight up psychotic, and this isn’t even the first ship he’s hunted down.
The biggest failing of this maritime adventure is the lack of narrative flow. The movie shifts from scene to scene without any sense of passing time. At one point we jump a full year and without the subtitle informing us of this the scene might’ve been set an hour later. We see all but nothing of life aboard the ship, or what the characters do outside of delivering exposition. It often feels like they don’t do anything in between these time jumps. Towards the end of the film Holland asks Hemsworth if he has a family – after spending two and half years on a small ship together, three months of which is spent on a rowboat with one other person. Were they having staring contests this whole time?
As a whole the script feels like it’s a series of dot points, similar to the final act of A Beautiful Mind but stretched out for the entire running time. There’s no flow, little sense of realism and a disappointing lack of insight into the characters lives. The cast put in good performances and clearly went through a physical toil to bring out the stranded-at-sea look, but it’s wasted without a good story to back it up.
While this could’ve been a hearty slice of maritime cinema, or an exciting tale of survival, the poorly plotted story and lack of engagement with the audience lets it down. The final result is mediocre at best.
Rating: FOUR out of TEN