In the Heart of the Sea
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Brenden Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Tom Holland, Michelle Fairley
When a film moves from a fall release to the following year, it typically means it has no awards potential and is being “dumped”. When a film moves from a spring release (where there is more money) to a fall release, it usually means that film has awards potential. Academy Award winning director Ron Howard (“Apollo 13”, “A Beautiful Mind”) is known for delivering captivating true stories in all sizes. “In the Heart of the Sea” is an epic retelling of the story that inspired the American classic “Moby Dick”. Divided into two segments, the survivor telling the story, and the adventures at sea, Howard reteams with his leading actor from “Rush” Chris Hemsworth for this visual effects loaded flick.
In 1850 Author Herman Melville (Whishaw) pays good money to sit with old Tom Nickerson (Gleeson), haunted by the experiences he had aboard The Essex in 1820. Nickerson has never spoken about what he endured as a 14 year old boy on a whaling ship. At the insistence of his loyal and loving wife (Fairley), he finally allows Melville to write down the true story of what really happened during the course of two years at sea. The Essex was under the command of Captain George Pollard (Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth), thousands of miles west of South America they were attacked by what had been referred to as a monster whale, white like alabaster. The fishermen hunting whales for oil would become the hunted and few would survive.
Big on splash and little on impact.
This film was never going to be without the need of visual effects, nearly all sailing films require it, but “In the Heart of the Sea” becomes a slave to it. It’s difficult not to root for the whale who appears to be enacting revenge on men who would harpoon innocent mammals trying to protect baby cafes simply for money and sport. We all know the story, whether we have read the book or not, but Charles Leavitt’s screenplay, a condensed and reimagined version, doesn’t offer us much in the way of character development. Master & Commander (2003) is a good comparison here of a film that affords the viewer an authentic experience of life aboard a ship. Here we race to the action and find this disaster story of survival feels very familiar.
“In the Heart of the Sea” suffers from the same problems Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” had last year. An epic story for sure, but the story-telling is resigned to large impact moments that rarely translate into an emotional experience for the audience. The heart of the film doesn’t lie with Hemsworth and his 1800’s version of Thor reimagined as a whaler, it’s in the fleeting moments of the old Nickerson, confessing his abominations in a dark room. The time spend on The Essex doesn’t feel authentic, the scenes of destruction from the encounter with Moby Dick are big on splash and little on impact while the desperate measures floating at sea is where the film really begins to spiral and treat the audience with family friendly kid gloves.
For a film with “Heart” in the title it certainly doesn’t have much on screen.