Cary, NC — In the Heart of the Sea is based on the true story that inspired Herman Melvilles’ Moby Dick. The film reunites director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) and star Chris Hemsworth (Thor), who previously worked together on the wonderful racing film Rush (how many times have I mentioned my love for this movie?).
Howard crafts some spectacular sequences, and Hemsworth has charisma to spare, but, unfortunately, the film lacks the scale and emotional core to leave any kind of mark.
Great Action Sequences
I find whales to be pretty terrifying. I like to think it’s a healthy fear, much like my fear of heights. Their size is awe-inspiring, and they are truly magnificent creatures, but, if I have a choice, I would like to stay as far away from them as I can. In the Heart of the Sea confirms this fear.
One of the things I liked most about the film is that it actually has a great respect for the creature. Most of the movie takes place on the Essex, a whaling ship in 1820 tasked with rounding up 2,000 barrels of whale oil. The first time the vessel captures its first whale, it starts out as an action sequence. Director Howard shows us beat-for-beat exactly how they did it.
But, once the job is done, the film stops cold. There are no cheers, no celebration. Hemsworth takes a moment to look at the whale, and he has a hint of sadness on his face. It’s a really great moment that reminds us that they took no great joy in killing the animals, but that, instead, it was their job, and people depended on them to get this oil.
That, of course, makes for great conflict when the great white whale is introduced. These men are just trying to make a living, yet the whales are just trying to live. As I mentioned, the sequences where the Essex is attacked are well put together and intense. Howard does a great job at displaying the size of the whale and the effects do a great job backing him up.
However, the bulk of the film is a survivors’ tale, with the leftover crew stranded at sea for months on end, and this is where it really falters. The filmmakers waste no time in getting everyone on the boat and out to sea, but the problem is that there isn’t enough time to get to know these guys. So, when things really start to go south for them, we don’t have an emotional connection to them. I actually think an extra 10-15 minutes just with the crew could have greatly helped the film have a more emotional impact.
Hemsworth is quickly proving to be more than just a superhero, however, and he fits the role and time period like a glove. His New England is wonky at best, but his screen presence is real, and I hope he works with Howard again.
Overall, In the Heart of the Sea is a bit of a letdown.
It’s a good movie that easily could have been a great one. Hemsworth and Howard both have the talent, but the film turns out to be a little hollow. Skip it.