I never bothered to read Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick. I’m 90% sure I read the Cliffs Notes version for a school project. Now, Ron Howard is giving us a movie showing the inspiration behind the fictional story.
To keep things fair, feel free to skip to the last two paragraphs if you just want the Cliffs Notes summary of this review.
The movie starts as Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) attempts to interview the last-known survivor of the doomed ship Essex. The storyteller (Brendan Gleeson) describes his time on the ship. It’s then that the movie follows the tale of first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). He, along with the reluctant captain of the ship, set sail to hunt whales. While in the midst of a pod of whales, the ship is attacked by an infamous 100 foot white whale.
There are a few reasons to see In the Heart of the Sea. Ship enthusiasts will devour the cinematography of classic boats coasting through the open ocean. The major draw, as evidenced by the overwhelming trailers, is the attack from the whale. It happens halfway through the two hour runtime. It’s exhilarating, but then leaves the crew and the audience with nothing to do but sit and wait for it to all end.
I enjoyed the overly-malicious whale attack, and even moreso, how much the whale stalked the remaining crew as they starved to death in lifeboats. No kidding, just when it seems that the survivors’ luck can’t get any worse, the whale pops up out of the water to basically tell them, “I’m watching you.”
Half of the movie shows the characters suffering through what you should come to expect from any movie where people drift at sea. Even when you do make it through an hour of drudgery, there’s little resolution. It almost feels that the writers wanted to keep the story as realistic as possible and didn’t feel the need to have a solid and impactful ending.
After Blackhat and this flick, Hemsworth is in need of a solid win. He’s still not quite ready for leading man status. It’s unclear whether he can break the Thor character, even when he’s trying to play a lower class seafarer. It’s a shame this didn’t turn out better, as Rush, his last collaboration with Ron Howard, turned out to be a great surprise (mostly due to costar Daniel Bruhl).
Tom Holland (The Impossible), the soon to be Spider-Man, plays the youngest deck hand. The movie jumps between him, Chase and the storyteller, perhaps in hopes to instill good pacing. Rather, it keeps you detached from every character and scene.
And now for the Cliffs/Kenny notes…
In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of Thor, who aspires to be a ship’s captain. He ends up being first mate to a pompous jerk. They and their crew hunt whales until Moby Dick hunts them back. For months, they are left in liferafts, with little food or chance of survival. Yada yada, cannibalism, yada yada. Herman Melville takes the story and writes the great American classic.
In the Heart of the Sea was intended to be an awards film, but it will never catch that white whale. The movie is serviceable and pretty, but it really wears your patience thin in an attempt to be accurate. Rent it. C