In The Heart Of The Sea

**1/2

Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

In The Heart Of The Sea
"Class and experience divisions form the bulk of the interpersonal drama and it’s as predictable as expected, with the added tedium of Hemsworth apparently defaulting back to weirdly out of place Asgardian diction, bellowing like Thor at every little thing"

I feel acute pity for any director attempting to transpose a classic novel to the screen these days, especially when a novel fits neatly into categorisation as an epic. With the rise of computer generated effects, cinema seems to struggle to capture the grandiosity required. Gone are the excesses of Intolerance and Lawrence Of Arabia, in their place are the gaudy colour corrected yarns of The Hobbit. In the Heart Of The Sea isn’t strictly an epic, it is technically an adaptation of the story behind the epic, based on the 2000 book of the same name. It provides us with our limp framing narrative: Ben Whishaw as Melville looking for something to make his story real, Brendan Gleeson as the old salt with a dark secret about his inaugural voyage. It’s a pointless artifice that keeps prodding the viewer, checking in and making sure they’re having the appropriate response: “This is the bit you're supposed to feel sad at, because the two men are brooding now.”

The grist of the film follows the whaling ship Essex and the rocky relationship between Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) the former a born and bred Nantuckett elite, the latter a sea-hardened farmer’s son with an axe to grind after being snubbed for captaincy. Their class and experience divisions form the bulk of the interpersonal drama and it’s as predictable as expected, with the added tedium of Hemsworth apparently defaulting back to weirdly out of place Asgardian diction, bellowing like Thor at every little thing and general taking a lot of the humanity out of the role by sounding like a bow-legged caricature of manliness. Cillian Murphy handles the role of sea-weathered veteran much better, looking suntanned, salt-blasted and carrying himself with much more conviction than the film really deserves.

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There is also the expected degree nautical peril, with storms and fierce whale battles providing plenty of chances for Ron Howard to mix some impressive CGI weather with some odd stage-lit reaction shots from his actors - the effect of circumventing the difficulties of filming at sea ends up looking a little perplexing. To his credit, Howard manages to make the vast, furious expanse of the ocean as cramped and suffocating as he once made the capsule of Apollo 13. It’s not quite enough to elevate the film above its inherent shlock factor, but the unexpectedly claustrophobic direction was a pleasant contrast to what I’d expected from the film. It hammers home the terror of the ocean, and the dire conditions sailors would have found themselves in. As the story unfolds and the scope is slowly pulled back to emphasise the vast stillness of the tropical doldrums, a textured and contrasting picture of the sea has been formed, as imposing and uncaring as the vacuum of space.

The whales themselves are also particularly vicious, but there are a few tonally jarring moments where they’re afforded a little too much pity by those supposed to be hardened whalers. The gory reality of the job is presented in enough detail to emphasise the reality of the situation, and it makes a nice nod to the encyclopaedic facets of Moby Dick, plus you get the feeling from low-angled shots of sloshing viscera that the experience of dissecting a whale is one that would never leave a sailor. Sadly it all gets lost in a story that, by attempting to show the “truth” behind Melville's epic, ends up being something markedly less. The monomaniacal desire of Ahab’s violent tryst with the White Whale is sorely missed as a driving force of the story, and those who have read the novel will find that the brazen truth doesn’t usurp the meticulously plotted fiction. This attempt at the original American Epic is destined to sink without a trace into the wild blue yonder, and even the spectacle of an alabaster ship wrecker won’t threaten to dredge it up.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2015
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Recounting of the tale that went on to inspire Moby Dick.

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, Tom Holland, Paul Anderson, Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawle, Edward Ashley, Sam Keeley, Osy Ikhile, Gary Beadle, Jamie Sives

Year: 2015

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Australia, Spain, UK, Canada

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