There’s something inherently scary about the ocean. The deep. The unknown. The piss and poo of fish and humans alike. Scary. What if there was a monster in the sea? A great white whale, hell-bent on your very destruction? Very very scary. What if the film version of this story starred some of the best character actors in the world, and was directed by hit-machine Ron Howard? Surely, it must be great?
As Brendan Gleeson’s character intones toward the start of the film, ‘This story will disappoint you.’
However, there are many aspects of In the Heart of the Sea to like. Based on the story behind the story Moby Dick was based on (or some such), ITHOTS follows the ill-fated crew of the Essex. Before oil was taken from the ground, it was taken from whales (it’s only logical), and so whale hunting was a thriving business. Having been promised his own captaincy, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) must play second fiddle to nepotism benefactor George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). However, the rivalry between the two men soon gives way to a much bigger threat. A 100-foot threat.
That said, don’t be fooled: this is no monster movie. It’s a shipwreck film, perhaps; a tale of what men will do to survive, maybe. Who knows? ITHOTS is pulled in so many different directions it’s hard to know exactly what it’s attempting to be.
Actually, the fact that it’s a true story is possibly its biggest detriment. While Moby Dick could take the notion of a gigantic whale and use it metaphorically to symbolize the insurgence of nature against man’s greed, the genuine concept of a whale with revenge on its mind is well… ludicrous. To present it as fact, in a tale where we’re treated to close-ups of the whale’s eyes, as they angle in anger or widen in fear, starts to strain the suspenders holding up our disbelief.
This is one true story I don’t truly believe.
This extends to the characters also, each one written with a blunt pencil, their motivations fuzzy. Chase is simply a whale fisher, going about his job without any strong beliefs. He’s always right, and seldom to his own loss. It’s possible that Captain Pollard is conceived as an origin story for Ahab, but his character – and perhaps the actor playing him – needs more work.
Yet, for the brief moments the whales are present, the film is elevated to a level worthy of Ron Howard films. The mixing of special effects and location is seamless, with neither the practical or visual elements sticking out. Within these settings, the performances are strong and well suited, even if the actors have to chew through overly-literary dialogue.
Want to watch a film about morality and shipwrecks? Watch Life of Pi. Want to watch a film in which the ideologies of captain and first mate collide? Watch Master and Commander. Watch to watch a monster movie inspired by Moby Dick? Watch Alien.
It’s not that In the Heart of the Sea is a bad film; it’s just remarkably average.
You can’t call Rían Ishmael, but you can tweet him.