In the Heart of the Sea has decent performances and a handful of inspired moments, but its cliched unwieldy script and poorly written characters turn it into a pedestrian survival tale.
In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. In the Heart of the Sea reveals the encounter’s harrowing aftermath, as the ship’s surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive.
Ron Howard attempts to recreate the rivalry of two driven men in the race tracks of Rush to the ship of Essex In the Heart of the Sea, a survival tale that would become the inspiration for Melville’s Moby Dick.
The movie has a decent cast capable enough to carry the film. Benjamin Walker is convincing as the elitist fresh faced Captain George Pollard. Chris Hemsworth is a perfect fit for the brawny self-assertive Owen Chase. The rest of crew are given little but still did well.
As expected from a well funded blockbuster movie released in the Oscar qualifying season, the crew is aided with a high production value, a proven director at the helm, and a bygone story from an important era in history.
In the Heart of the Sea does provide a convincing enough seafaring experience despite the obvious artificial background with a washed-out color palette. When the men finally get off the ship to hunt whales, the movie finds its footing. Cinema audiences will find some nice action sequences of boat crushing mayhem that looks good on the big screen despite an obviously CGI whale thanks to the film direction.
However, these inspired moments of action and adventure are the only saving grace in this typical box office offering. The rest of the clunky plot devolves into a plodding display of emaciation with negligible characters. The survival tale does have compelling story in it somewhere with fitting themes – greed and pride – and conflicts – man against himself and man against nature – but they’re diluted by a generic script with expository dialogue.
The narrator – Thomas Nickerson – would have been a perfect stand-in for the audience. There is much to glean from the first time whaleman who has yet to realize the dangers and consequences of whaling that goes beyond the sea. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t really shown through his point of view nor allows him to share his perspective. In the Heart of Sea is about the heroic first-mate Owen Chase versus a vengeful whale.
Chris Hemsworth lends his movie star charm but his role is predictable like everything else. Cillian Murphy is under-served and underused, Frank Dillane is a token villain, and the supposed narrator is a blank spectator.
In the Heart of the Sea concludes with a neatly wrapped up ending. As far as blockbusters go, it does provide the visuals it promises in the trailer. Audiences will get the action they expect, but this survival tale doesn’t have the depth it aspires to convey. In essence, the movie is The Perfect Storm with a whale.
My Rating: 5/10