In the Heart of the Sea is the much anticipated new film by Ron Howard starring Chris Hemsworth with scars and a talented supporting cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland (our new Spider-Man), Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw as the author of Moby Dick Herman Melville, and the sea titan that is the “Great White Whale” himself. What we are greeted with is an origin story to the inspiration and “real life” events that inspired Melville’s American classic we all know of today. What are given rather than a battle between man and whale is a story between man and man and the natural occurrences that crash and destroy as much as the waves of the ocean.
The film was originally set to be released March 13th of this year (2015) but what delayed until December for what we all thought to believe as a campaign for its quality and hopeful Oscar recognition come Award season, but sadly, In the Heart of the Sea misses like a poorly thrown harpoon and sinks in it’s own shortcomings. What this film was marketed as a swashbuckling tale of man versus beast, but in reality, the beast is not what this movie circles around. This is a tale of two men and their relationship out at sea as they clash due to conflicting elevation in status. Hemsworth’s Owen Chase is blue-collar man of the ocean and whaler for 1800’s Nantucket whaling companies whose experience counts for little as he is denied the spot as captain when a man takes the spot of captain simply because of his name and that is what the story ends up telling unlike early speculations of “man vs. sea monster”.
Where this film falls flat is not in it’s entertainment value, but the lack of constant focus, and that is shown through the shaky camera angles as well as the poorly done CGI for a fair amounts of the scenes. It’s unlike Ron Howard to give us a poorly crafted movie, but he does fall short on bringing us any depth to our characters beyond a few words defining their relationships and motives on the whaling ship Essex. Though Hemsworth somehow remains as handsome as ever, we only wish his New England accent was as pretty. In and out like a house pet, the actors not including Cillian Murphy – who has always been remarkable at hiding his Irish brogue – were not as believable as we’d like to get from actors of this caliber. Though the acting was fine, there wasn’t enough emotional depth to what the characters were and could have been. The ideas that were supposed to be invoked or implied did not come out strong for the multiple story angles Howard wanted us to tell, but if there was a constant bright spot for the film and it’s characters, that award goes to Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson as Melville and Tom Nickerson.
The whales themselves were fun to look at as far as CGI went and you couldn’t help but be rooting for them. Without a line or hint of dialogue, the whales, including Moby Dick, had the most motivation to do what they did and that’s not what this story intended. Rather than spend time on the underwater Leviathan, it was a humanistic story that depicted the harshest of conditions for men to survive in and was shown visually well, but it didn’t register like most of us may have hoped. Starvation, insanity, and the destruction of the human psyche are where they should have stayed focused for the crew of Essex, but rather than keep a few main themes, it was more a jumbling of forced emotions and not so intense collisions with the crew members and the whale itself.
A film with characters as salty and as unpredictable as the oceans they sail on should be far more interesting than what this end product became. Hemsworth is too good as a leading man in Hollywood to not raises the mast of the story for the better, but when it comes down to it, the director is truly the captain. It’s a disappointment to the standards Mr. Howard has maintained since he stepped into the director chair and serves as a reminder that even directors have a missed outing. An over reliance on what isn’t even “great” CGI is what makes the glaring issues pop. The best CGI are the ones you never sea, but unfortunately I am writing about it.
In the Heart of the Sea is a reminder to all of us that we can not tackle nature head on without respect and that nature will always have the upper hand on us humans who look like mere specks on the scales of the oceans. What this film turns out to be in not a trek across oceans to hunt one mythical whale, but a trek across oceans that means life and death for men who realize they are vulnerable to the unknown of the aquatic surroundings of their dangerous jobs and what they had to do in desperate times thanks to a beast of mythical proportions contributions to their near demise.