In the Heart of the Sea (Warner Bros., PG-13)

in-the-heart-of-the-sea 75With a plot as common and by-the-numbers as this, one has to ask why Ron Howard didn’t deliver on the whales, the movie’s biggest asset.

 




in the heart of the sea 500

In the Heart of the Sea is a decent adventure film about whale hunting, if you’re into that sort of thing. Ron Howard is a capable and competent director, and rarely makes a movie that is flat out bad or irritating. It’s also rare that he makes something really exceptional. This movie is pretty standard Howard fare; good looking, exciting, but not particularly memorable. It wouldn’t be the worst choice for a trip to the theater on a whim, but there are way better things to see. My gut reaction at the end was a simple, if not lukewarm, “not bad.” I will say, though, that there’s definitely an audience for movies about big ships and men who look like they stink, and In the Heart of the Sea is here to satisfy them for the harsh winter months.

Ben Whishaw plays author Hermann Melville, who seeks to learn the true story of the doomed Essex whaling vessel from Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), one of the few survivors of the disastrous journey for whale oil. Nickerson’s account of the voyage will eventually become Melville’s most famous novel, Moby Dick. Chris Hemsworth leads the film with charisma and power as the first mate Owen Chase, although his accent is indecipherable and very poorly done. Actually, nearly everyone’s accent is all over the place in this movie. Anyway, after little success hunting whales, Hemsworth and Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) decide to track down the infamous white whale, which leads to outright disaster.

The first half is a little Master and Commander-y, and the second half goes full Cast Away. These elements add up to a fairly exciting disaster movie that is mostly fast-paced and mildly enjoyable though it drags in a few places. It is also bogged down by some predictable moments, clichés, and some tedious and flowery dialogue. One thing I will give it credit for is its depiction of whale hunting. I was a little worried that it was going to go all softy on how brutal and inhumane the practice was since the goal of the characters is to get oil and the great white whale is the villain. The scenes of whale killing were actually pretty unsettling, and there was no shying away from how nasty the act of slaughtering a whale and excavating its fat is. The young Nickerson, played by Tom Holland, is probably the most interesting character and is responsible for most of the film’s emotional content. Cillian Murphy appears briefly as Owen Chase’s best friend and is also very watchable.

One thing to note is that for a movie about the story that inspired Moby Dick, there’s very little whale action going on. They spared no expense on special effects, and the whale scenes are the highlight of the film when they occur. It’s not something that bothered me a whole lot when I was watching it, but thinking about it afterward, I’m not sure why they didn’t include more. Because of this, I don’t know if the movie is going to do well, even with action-loving historical epic fans. With a plot as common and by-the-numbers as this, one has to ask why Ron Howard didn’t deliver on the whales, the movie’s biggest asset. | Nic Champion

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