Director; Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley
Written by: (also story) Charles Leavitt, (story) Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and (based on the book “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”) Nathaniel Philbrick
Running Time: 122 mins
Release date: 26th December 2015
If there is one thing I hate about reviewing films, is when you see a movie that has obviously had a lot of passion and commitment put into it, and at best it’s okay. In a way, you kind of wish it was terrible, then you can forgive it for being so ordinary. Yet that’s the conclusion I came across after watching Ron Howard’s large-scale epic, In The Heart Of The Sea, in that, it was just okay. Surely the true story of events that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick shouldn’t be so average.
Owen Chase is a whaler who has worked hard enough to earn himself a captain of a ship. Yet he is pushed aside by the son of one of the charters, reduced to being first mate. Boarding the Essex, a whaler that is expected to bring back gallons of whale oil, the tension between new captain George Pollard and Chase become very apparent, yet with all their bickering, they have very little oil to show for their efforts. Told of a school of whales, they head off, not knowing that among them is a giant white whale. known for destroying ships. The Essex becomes its next victim, leaving Pollard and Chase to fight for survival with a predator whale tracking their every move.
Ron Howard, as we know, is a skilled and accomplished director with a string of hits behind him and so you come to expect that, of all directors out there, he can deliver exciting action and heart-stopping adventure. Let’s face it, he was the man behind Apollo 13 and look how gripping that was. Yet here, with this enormous tale to tell that’s not only a classic seafaring adventure but a human drama about fighting for survival, you would think he could produce the goods. Yet he doesn’t.
The film struggles with pacing. unevenly bouncing from full-on action sequences to the slower paced human tale, yet never fully hitting those beats right. So instead of flowing, it becomes jarring. We then get Herman Melville interviewing one of the crew members, which, while very well acted by Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson, seems to bring the proceedings to a shuddering halt.
The effects, too, seem all a bit ordinary. The whale, which tales over an hour to finally be revealed, is impressive but there are moments when the green screen genuinely look like green screen. Sequences where the crew are whaling in difficult waters looks like they were filmed in the studio and so you don’t believe they are in any real danger. One of the opening scenes, a landscape shot, looks terrible and you’d expect to see shots like that in a 50’s movie instead of a 21st Century film.
The cinematography and sound editing are impressive as are some of the performances, mainly from Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland as crew members but Chris Hemsworth, while watchable, is playing the Hollywood leading man and it is incredibly obvious. A scene in which he almost flies up the vast rigging to untangle a sail and save the day is almost laughable. You just expect there to be a triumphant trumpet fanfare.
Apart from its ordinariness, the film doesn’t have the wow factor and sadly, I get the impression it will sink without a trace. Having a huge release on Boxing Day, especially with Star Wars still in cinemas, it doesn’t have the subject matter that will instantly draw in audiences, so it will have to rely heavily on word-of-mouth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like its going to have a promising future. A pity, because it’s not terrible by a long shot, just average.