Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson
Release Date: December 26th
In the Heart of the Sea opens and closes with Herman Melville. He appears throughout, plying Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) with whiskey, extracting more and more from him about the time he sailed as a boy on the ill-fated Essex, a whaling ship that was sunk by a sperm whale in the 1820s. The legacy of Moby Dick hangs heavy throughout, its iconography is Ron Howard’s greatest sales pitch. But it’s not Moby Dick and you’ll spend the entire film wondering why not.
Nickerson had his first job sailing on the Essex under the stewardship of Captain George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). A rivalry exists between the ships leaders, borne out of Chase’s belief that it should be he in command and Pollard’s jealousy of his ability to ingratiate himself to the crew. (I’m sure looking like the God of Thunder is a pretty tough act to play second fiddle to too.) Internal bickering leads the Essex first into a storm and second on a wild goose chase toward a large pod of whales, with one described as the devil itself. An encounter with this vast leviathan leaves them stranded at sea.
In the age of Cecil the Lion, it’s makes an interesting choice to make a movie about whalers and expect to garner any sympathy. Howard doesn’t really address it either. There’s not a whole lot of remorse in the slaughter, making it seem like a big budget adaptation of The Cove at its most grim. The cast make a decent stab at it but its weighed down by a central conflict that boils down, rather disappointingly, to a man’s man against a daddy’s boy.
What it lacks in subtlety and plot, it should more than make up in ambition and sheer scale. Howard brings Nantucket to life well and a supporting cast of Peaky Blinders and Game of Throners — I made it 3-2 to Thrones — give the right sense of setting and place. Sadly though, he relies too heavily on patchy CGI and some of the worst backlot green screen work you’ll have seen in some time when it comes to navigating the violent oceans. Cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, a mainstay of Danny Boyle and Lars von Trier productions, injects some interest with cameras strapped to the hull and the side of masts but its microscale excellence is shipwrecked by big bloated blockbuster tradition.
There is the potential for an excellent movie to be made about The Whale, this blubbering mess is not it.