It is undeniable that In the Heart of the Sea is all blubber with no elegance or charm. The great period pieces Ron Howard produces, like last year’s Rush, thrive on the authenticity every moving part in it establishes. The acting, the set pieces, and the wardrobe are only a few essential parts needed to make the recreation of a specific time period feel genuine. Howard’s heavy-handed use of computer graphics slew any chance at giving this tall tale any bit of believability, especially since it comes off as more video game than movie.
Like any Ron Howard film, the most enjoyable experiences are the performances, and this one is no different. The story is split into two stories. The overarching one involves Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) talking with the last living survivor of calamitous whaling expedition, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), which ends up becoming the inspiration for his now famed novel, ‘Moby Dick’. The other part of the film shows the story playing out with Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) as the main protagonist. The most compelling part of the film is the somber exchange between Melville and a very affected Nickerson. Gleeson’s performance almost makes the entire film worth watching, with his effortless command of the screen and perfect portrayal of a man
The most compelling part of the film is the somber exchange between Melville and a very affected Nickerson. Gleeson’s performance almost makes the entire film worth watching, with his effortless command of the screen and perfect portrayal of a man suffering from a lifetime of PTSD and alcoholic self-medication. His conversations with an eager and obsessed Whishaw prove to be more interesting than a giant, CGI whale.
Unfortunately, that story is treated as only secondarily important, with the Hemsworth lead recollections being the main focus. In this story, they whale is the hero. Even though they try to make you understand that these people are doing this to provide for their families, it still proves to be a monstrous cost too high. Add on top of that how Hemsworth and the ship captain come off as recklessly self-serving, and you don’t have a single redeemable human in this whole story. So when the whale is wreaking it’s rightly earned retribution, you never empathize with the humans. You’re rooting for the whale until the very end, and praising it still after it proves to be the bigger mammal and shows mercy.
There are few emotions the whaling part of this film draw up aside from awe and disgust. The emotional heart of the film rests inside the whale and Brendan Gleeson’s character since they are the only ones you feel anything for. Hemsworth’s character gives a compelling case, but ultimately comes off as shallow, even with his interesting New Englander Thor accent. There was no loving attention to detail or even any care to create background sets aside from the sterile CGI. The only “heart” in In the Heart of the Sea is found in the title. The filmmakers lack of caring doesn’t inspire us to feel any differently. Call me Disappointed because this was a flop of a whale’s tale.
RATING: ★★★★ (4/10 stars)