Ron Howard’s maritime disaster is more ‘Castaway’ than ‘Moby Dick’…
In the heart of the sea focuses on the ‘true’ events that inspired Herman Melville’s literary epic Moby Dick, but doesn’t come anywhere near the gravitas of Ahab’s legendary journey.
The film’s events unravel through a series of flashbacks recounted by Thomas Nickerson, (Brendan Gleeson) the last living survivor of the New England whaling ship the Essex, to budding author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) as inspiration for his next novel. Nickerson recounts his experiences aboard the Essex as a young cabin boy, played by an excellent Tom Holland.
Set in 1820’s Nantucket, (the headquarters of the global whale oil business) the crew of the Essex embark on a journey to find and hunt Sperm whales. Rush star Chris Hemsworth plays first mate Owen Chase, an experienced sailor who expected to become captain, but the role is instead given to George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker) on account of his family name and status. Tensions become apparent on-board when the less experienced captain makes some rookie errors as the boat encounters a storm, disregarding Chase’s advice. But the two men have far more than a tempest to worry about when a giant white whale takes vengeance upon the whaling vessel.
In the heart of the sea focuses more on style rather than substance with overt yellow and blue colour gradings. The cinematography also really highlights how artificial the film is as it was pretty hard to forget you were looking at anything but special effects. Howard does use some creative camera angles though to immerse you in the action, especially in the action pieces when the crew are hunting the whales.
Unlike Rush, there is hardly any character development or backstory. Also with the main set pieces focusing on the crew gleefully hunting whales, I found it really hard to care about any of the characters, let alone align with any of them. Hemsworth was perfectly solid as Chase and Holland again proved his worth following The Impossible, but I felt there was no real depth in the performances that I was expecting from the tale that inspired Moby Dick. Considering the influential themes in the novel of man vs. nature, the cost of hunting for oil and also fate and free will, these were only briefly explored through the film as Chase quickly doubts the consequences of his actions. There were also some rather hard scenes to watch involving whale hunting and extracting oil from a dead whale’s head which may make some viewers uncomfortable. Oh and did I forgot to mention the human cannibalism?! Shudder.
With a running time of just over two hours, and a lot of it spent stranded at sea, you really start to feel like you’re trapped with the crew! In the heart of the sea doesn’t have a lot going on besides the action and main performances from Hemsworth and Holland, which is a shame as I was looking forward to an epic tale of man vs. nature. Think Castaway but without Wilson