Dog’s Movie House: “In The Heart Of The Sea” Disappointing Effort From Howard And Hemsworth!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
Ron Howard is one of our most successful filmmakers and Chris Hemsworth is one of Hollywood’s rising stars, yet the first film they did together, the underseen “Rush” tanked at the box office. It’s a terrific film but for some reason it failed to connect with audiences. Now they’ve teamed up again for “In The Heart Of The Sea,” the fact-based tale that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Now I can’t speak about the box office prospects for the film (although industry analysts say “murky”), but, considering the talent involved, “In The Heart Of The Sea” is a decidedly underwhelming affair.
“In The Heart Of The Sea,” tells the tale of the Essex, a whaling ship in 1820 that was attacked by a huge sperm whale, forcing the crew to survive for 90 days at sea. In the film this story is told from the point of view by the last surviving member of the Essex, one Tom Nickerson (played by Brendan Gleeson as an adult and by Tom Holland as a youngster). As an older man, Nickerson is drinking himself to death, the memories of what happened all those years ago weighing him down. He finally breaks down and tells his story to Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw). Melville sees this as an opportunity to advance his own career with an incredible story.
Using this device, we are taken back to Nantucket in 1820 where we meet Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) a veteran first mate and excellent whaler expecting to become captain of the Essex on this latest expedition for whale oil. Unfortunately his is undercut by his superiors who promote the very green George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who just happens to be the scion of one of the country’s most prominent whaling families. Chase is pissed, of course, but goes along on the promise that he will get his captaincy the next time around. The two squabble and fight until it’s time for the whaling to begin. After a couple of dry spots, the Essex sails into deep an uncharted waters, and it is there where they encounter the massive white whale that provides the basis for the legendary tale of “Moby Dick.”
Let’s start with what Ron Howard and company get right. First of all, “In The Heart Of The Sea” looks great. The filmmakers do a terrific job of recreating Nantucket during the early 1800s, creating an authentic whaling culture that shows how tough that particular industry really was. Whale oil was the primary source of energy during those years, and Howard (along with scripters Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver) effectively put the emphasis on the pressure these folks were under, especially on these long sea voyages.
Another plus is the rendering of the whale hunts. These guys had to hunt huge whales in small boats with hand-thrown harpoons. It’s portrayed accurately as dangerous, back-breaking work that creates its own peril even before the big whale shows up. As for the cetacean who would be Moby Dick, he is as impressive a creature as you will see on the screen this year. I don’t know if I believe the story of a one hundred foot sperm whale, but it certainly looks impressive on the big screen.
Unfortunately, “In The Heart Of The Sea” has several problems that detract from what should have been a slam dunk of a story. The script never really delves into the characters, leaving talented actors like Cillian Murphy, Holland, Hemsworth, and Walker to wander aimlessly through a story filled with standard clichés. Hemsworth, so good in “Rush,” has little to do here but flex his manly muscles and scowl at Walker’s Pollard, who aside from some early scenes almost becomes a non-entity in the film. An early scene in which Pollard recklessly sails the Essex into a storm despite the protests of Chase and the argument that follows has been done much more effectively in several other movies. I would have preferred a more nuanced approached that made the main two protagonists more than dramatic cardboard cutouts.
The other problem is that the wonderful whale is the Darth Maul of “In The Heart Of The Sea.” The trailers promote this man against beast story but the film itself doesn’t feature the whale all that much. The whale shows up, kicks ass, and leaves. There are a couple of scenes when it seems to be stalking the survivors, but those scenes don’t play out in a remotely satisfactory fashion. Howard is interested in the human drama, which is fine so long as the humans involved are actually interesting. When they’re two dimensional characters like they are in “In The Heart Of The Sea,” then the result is frustratingly stagnant and uninteresting.
I can’t tell you that “In The Heart Of The Sea” is an awful movie, but it sure is disappointing given the talent involved. If you must see this film, see it at a matinee and avoid the 3D as it doesn’t offer a whole lot to the film. Otherwise, wait until video or streaming. 2 ½ Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!
“In The Heart Of The Sea” is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material