In The Heart Of The Sea(2015)
- RatedPG13 /GenreDrama
Ron Howard takes his directing chops to this adaptation of the story that inspired Herman Melville's novel 'Moby Dick'. It's one part monster movie, one part survival tale, and though the latter half of the movie just drifts, it's not as bad as one might fear from its much-delayed release.
After setting up a framing device involving Melville (Ben Whishaw) listening to a tale narrated by an old sailor, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, the story shifts to the whale ship Essex. It's captained by George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who was born into the office of a sea captain.
As expected, he doesn't have a good relationship with his highly experienced first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). The Essex doesn't have much success in its whaling endeavours in the Atlantic, and the ship ventures into the Pacific.
They encounter a huge whale, which is the beginning of their real problems. The giant whale doesn't seem to like having its territory encroached upon, and rams the Essex, sinking it. The men escape on lifeboats but are unable to find land. Soon, they run out of food, and, unfortunately, mystery meat isn't on the menu.
A film that doesn't have much of a climax, essentially moving in slow motion for the last third, 'In The Heart of The Sea' trots out all the problems of seafaring and getting shipwrecked that we've seen before - class differences, inexperienced crew, wild storms and getting shipwrecked.
The only original segment came when the crew has to retrieve the vestiges of oil from a whale carcass, where the smallest amongst them is shoved right into the decaying corpse like a latter-day Jonah.
Howard skims over the cannibalism parts, the most brutal part of the whole story. One wonders whether this was the reason for the film's delay. By not showing the spiritual cost inflicted upon the sailors, the film seems afraid to confront the true horror of what transpired. Starvation and thirst are quite difficult to depict on screen, and Howard fails to convey the men's desperation.
The filmmakers also excluded one of the most interesting parts of Essex's story. After the sinking of the ship, the sailors landed on a group of uninhabited islands in the Pacific. They feasted on giant tortoises and one of them set a fire as a prank. That fire burned out of control and contributed to the extinction of a native tortoise species and the near-extinction of native birds. Environmental impact, anyone?
The whale itself is a monster of a beast, and it's hard not to feel for this creature, which has to fight off these invaders that seek to kill its brethren. Still, there's little awe here. After watching far too many BBC documentaries narrated by David Attenborough, the sight of a CG whale just fails to really impress.
Hemsworth does a fairly decent job in the lead role, though in one scene when he hacks his axe into the body of the whale one wonders what would have happened if it had been Mjolinir instead.
Much has been made of his weight loss, but they don't really give the film much. Benjamin Walker, who plays captain Pollard, is the only character with much of an arc in the story and starts out seemingly as its villain before winding up as the film's most tragic figure.
Cillian Murphy, who plays the film's second mate and Chase's best friend, is brilliant, but the part doesn't feel meaty enough. There are also a whole bunch of throwaway characters in the movie, and their deaths aren't particularly poignant.
In The Heart of the Sea is not one of Howard's best films, but like much of his repertoire is quite watchable.
It steers clear of the darkest moments of the crews' experience and confronting it might have helped give the movie more heft and weight.