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. “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. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade, as their captain searches for direction on the open sea and his first mate still seeks to bring the great whale down.
It takes a bold movie to be released in the cinemas in the same month as The Force Awakens, but that didn’t stop the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks movie opening on the same weekend (the result was predictably, a slaughter), but also it didn’t stop In The Heart of the Sea, from Rush director Ron Howard, also being released shortly after Christmas. I was able to catch it at the Cinema last night whilst at my relatives and it unfortunately, wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped. Despite boasting an all star cast in the form of Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brenden Gleeson and more, and a director whose films I’ve enjoyed in the past, In The Heart of the Sea was largely a letdown, offering little in the way of thrills or excitement as it attempted to tell the story that would inspire the classic Moby Dick.
In the Winter of 1820 the whaling ship known as Essex was attacked by a whale of gigantic proportions, and this film attempts to look into the other side of the story, exploring what happens to the ships’ crew that survived the attack as they are forced to do the unthinkable, battling storms, starvation and homesickness as they have to question their deepest beliefs and everything they’ve stood for. And what of course makes things worse is that there is growing distrust between the First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), who was rejected the role of Captaincy even after it was promised to him. The Captain who took the helm instead is the greenhorn George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), and as a result, this naturally adds all the dramatic tension needed for what should have been an epic survival story against all odds.
Yet, In The Heart of the Sea fell largely flat. Despite the cast, which also includes Ben Whishaw, Michelle Eairley, and future Spider-Man Tom Holland, the film can never quite be as gripping enough as other survival stories, say like Gravity for example. It’s just over two hours long which makes things last a lot longer than they should have done, as the pace feels slow and the usual flash-forward opener of a writer seeking out the character after the events has happened to tell him a story – the writer of course being Whishaw’s Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, feels clichéd and has been used in many similar movies. There also isn’t anything remarkably new or fresh about this film as well, case in point, the captain having problems with the rest of the crew and the young, naive boy fresh out of water also being nothing new.
If you’ve seen a Ron Howard movie before then you’ll know what to expect but ultimately at the same time he can’t keep up the strong, lively feel to the movie for very long. The key to survival stories is fleshing out characters but this is another area where In The Heart of the Sea struggled. They’re not captivating enough and it falls into the same trap as Everest, there’s too much of them for us to care. Plus, it doesn’t help that the clash between the Captain and First Mate goes on far too long.
Yes, the ensemble performances are good and the film itself isn’t a bad movie. There’s plenty to go for it, the score and the atmosphere work well, even if the use of CGI varies in quality overtime. However, there are far worse movies available to watch and In the Heart of the Sea is far from one of the worst movies of 2015. Just bear in mind that it’s not particularly any good, either.