In The Heart of The Sea: Film Review
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Benjamin Walker
Director: Ron Howard
The tale of Moby Dick is not a new one by any stretch of the imagination.
But this true story whale tale sees Hemsworth and director Howard reuniting after the much-overlooked Rush to tell the story of the story of the sinking of the Essex back in 1820 which inspired Melville to write Moby Dick.
Complete with John Wayne drawl, Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, the rugged first mate who's always overlooked for captaincy of vessels heading off to see from Nantucket to gather whale oil. Hooked in by the promise of being a captain in a next voyage, Chase takes his position on the Essex, and defers to Benjamin Walker's Captain George Pollard who's installed in charge by way of nepotism rather than via hardy hours at sea.
With this tension and a crew that barely seems sea-worthy, the Essex sets out on its fruitless search, but falling foul of not enough supply but plenty of demand, Pollard pushes the crew out into the uncharted waters. But it's here the crew faces its biggest challenge as they're struck by a massive white whale and suddenly have to put aside their quarrels and survive.
In The Heart of The Sea is a muddled film that at times, finds itself at sea.
By balancing two narratives as Gleeson's older survivor tells his story to Whishaw's author Melville who's seeking inspiration and by flashing back and showing the fate of the Essex, Howard inadvertently strips the story of any real tension, preferring to use a hoary old narrative crutch instead of letting the drama talk for itself.
And while the sequences when the great white attack show a sense of urgency, even though they're over incredibly quickly, In the Heart of the Sea isn't exactly in a rush to get to its destination.
Large portions of the second half of the film see the men all at sea a la Unbroken and Life Of Pi, but because earlier stretches of the film do little to build character outside of Chase, the plight of the rest of the crew is somewhat lost in the wash (even the tension between Pollard's silver-spooned captain and Chase's tired of being passed over falters dangerously close to undeveloped) and consequently lacks the engagement needed.
Fortunately that gap is filled by Gleeson's weighty performance of a man desperate to unburden his soul but terrified of what the truth reveals about the lengths gone to for survival. It's here the gravitas is brought and Gleeson becomes the film's MVP without any shadow of a doubt, pulling in pathos, horror and eliciting emotion from the simplest of looks. In stark contrast Hemsworth seems too clean cut and lacking in any real depth; there's no disputing his good intentions, but there's equally no escaping the one dimensional nature of this landsman in these flashbacks - it's a fatal flaw that holds you at arm's length.
Howard's cinematography is replete with images from the level of the ropes and the masts that scatter the ship and his solid directorial eye brings an interesting take on the hoary old sea dog stories, even if it does lapse into water-bound visual cliches and proffers little in the way of new perspectives.
Ultimately, In The Heart of the Sea relies a little too heavily on its CGI creatures and leans not enough on its own character developments; there are tantalising hints of what the film could have been, but these elements don't quite gel together. In stopping the story at crucial points for a flash-forward and failing to build all characters other than Chase (who borders on a caricature) In The Heart of the Sea proves a fitful beast, and one which isn't exactly destined for Davy Jones' Locker but one that never quite gets the wind it needs in its dramatic sails.