In The Heart Of The Sea Review

In The Heart Of The Sea

Now I’m not normally a fan of sea-faring romps, but the cast list of In The Heart Of The Sea had me excited.

Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw and Chris Hemsworth headline proceedings, with support from the likes of Cillian Murphy and Benjamin Walker and the where-do-I-know-that-bloke-from factor of Joseph Mawle and Paul Anderson.

Throw into the mix new Spiderman Tom Holland, seat Ron Howard in the director’s chair and it’s all looking quite promising.

In The Heart Of The Sea tells, in part, the story of The Essex, a boat from Nantucket which set off in 1819 on a pretty standard whaling expedition.

Amongst the crew is Captain Pollard (Walker), primarily present by virtue of his family name, and First Mate Chase (Hemsworth), a veteran whaler of a more humble background.

In 1820, the boat was sunk by a gigantic white whale in the Pacific Ocean, with the survivors then making an attempt to get back to the South American coast.

The film cuts between this and another story set in 1850, where Herman Melville (Whishaw) is seeking inspiration to write a great American novel to compete with the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

In this endeavour, Melville has turned to Thomas Nickerson (Gleeson) who recounts of his experience aboard the Essex as a young boy (played by Holland).

The tale is harrowing but worth it, for Melville’s novel would turn out to be Moby Dick.

In The Heart Of The Sea certainly boasts visual panache and spectacle. You can almost taste the sea water as you are plunged into the action.

There are also moments, albeit sporadic, of substance to accompany the style.

A scene in which Pollard and Chase briefly meditate on man’s right to the planet will surely compensate for the earlier, animal-rights-activist-baiting scenes of whale-hunting.

But for the most part, the film’s overall calibre of performance falls short of the sum of its parts.

Even forgiving some of the fleeting Bwaaswston accents.

Hemsworth is fine in full alpha mode, but out of the rest of crewmates, Walker is a bit bland as Pollard and Murphy as Second Mate is severely underutilised. Mawle and Anderson are reduced to bit-parts.

Restricted as any true story may be, you wish more dramatic tension had been wrung out of the conflict between the Captain and First Mate, or that the Second Mate’s backstory was fleshed out in accordance with earlier hints.

It also says a lot that you find yourself preferring to spend time with the older Nickerson and his storytelling in 1850, rather than focusing on the actual dramatization of the event in 1820.

Last but not least, there is the whale itself.

Distinctly lacking the personality of a certain iconic Amity-Island resident, the literary leviathan mostly takes the onscreen form of a large grey mass moving past the camera at various speeds.

This is not a criticism of the special effects team, more of structure.

By the third act, we become less concerned about the whale in general, with In The Heart Of The Sea ignoring the set-up and shifting gears from a man-versus-elements story to a tale of survival.

Or to draw parallels with an earlier true story from Howard, it is kind of like how Apollo 13 is less about space and more about the astronauts’ journey.

Which may not be the story people are expecting here.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

December 2015