Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Hemsworth, Cinema, Film, Herman Melville, In the Heart of the Sea, Life of Pi, Moby Dick, Movie Review, Ron Howard, Room, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, Whaling
“In the Heart of the Sea” is a half-decent film. In essence it tells the story of Moby Dick, or rather one of the characters in the movie (Thomas Nickerson played by Brendan Gleeson) tells the story to another character, Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw). Structurally it plays out a bit like “Life of Pi”, as one character pries into another’s history for the sake of both intellectual curiosity and inspiration; this history then plays out on screen and makes up the bulk of the movie.
My biggest concern going into “In the Heart of the Sea” was whether or not a well-known tale about whaling could capture my interest, considering that in this day-and-age we’re used to extraordinary stories involving superheroes and robots. To my surprise, the scale of the story really wasn’t an issue – the whaling aspect is interesting for what it’s worth, because having to kill massive creatures on voyages that could take multiple years, for the sake of oil, is quite a strange concept to grasp. On top of that, the idea of nature balancing itself out and fighting back at humanity in the form of a huge white whale is fun and novel.
Nevertheless, the story does end up letting the movie down because there just isn’t enough depth to it. From the moment that Nickerson begins telling his far-fetched yarn we as the audience know what direction the film is going to take, because we know that he survives whatever complications arise, that these complications are severe enough to haunt him, and that a huge whale is going to turn up and cause problems (because “In the Heart of the Sea” is based on Moby Dick after all). There’s nothing to get excited about, because although we see the characters killing a whale and keeping things ‘ship-shape’ (pun intended) we know that they aren’t going to return home with 2,000 barrels of blubber – things have to go wrong or there’d be no reason for Nickerson’s reluctance to tell the tale, or for Melville to be interested in what Nickerson has to say.
I feel as though restrictions placed on the movie, such as its age certificate, meant that it couldn’t do the things that would’ve made it interesting; for example, “In the Heart of the Sea” touches on atrocities like cannibalism and being stranded at sea, but it can’t do anything with these problems because it can’t show you the true reality of the situation.
Another reason why the story lets itself down is that we as an audience aren’t afforded enough time to become connected to the characters, or those character’s relationships with one another. The interactions that the characters have with one another are superficial and short, and although the reasons behind their actions are touched upon, they’re never delved into with care and consideration. Perhaps certain members of the audience might’ve felt a connection to Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) given the fact that we see his wife at the start of the tale, and we are also told that he has a baby on the way, but to someone like me this is a red flag; a cheap trick used by filmmakers to force the audience into feeling invested.
Despite this film’s issues, the cast is pretty good and they perform their roles well, especially given the fact that the characters they’re playing aren’t fully realised or developed. The direction is also nice; “In the Heart of the Sea” is well shot and the effects are fine, which should be expected given that Ron Howard was in the box seat. So, when all is said and done, “In the Heart of the Sea” isn’t actually a bad movie. However, it also isn’t a particularly good one. Sadly, there’s just nothing special about it – it’s a pleasant enough experience but it isn’t really worth watching at the cinema when films like “The Hateful Eight”, “Star Wars : The Force Awakens”, and “Room” are out right now.