In The Heart Of The Sea (2015 USA)

Unfairly labelled a flop because it didn’t generate enough moolah at the box office, but in this day and age that’s probably a sign of quality. A dramatization of the true events that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick”. In 1820 the whaling ship Essex sets sail from Nantucket, Massachusetts. After a largely fruitless search in the Atlantic she heads for the west coast of South America. There she hears about rich whaling grounds several hundred miles west. After reaching the whaling grounds she is attacked and sunk by a massive white sperm whale. The crew take to the boats in what will be an epic struggle for survival. 

Directed by Ron Howard, there are a lot of elements the film gets right under his supervision but due to the shortcomings in the script, it fails to make a lasting impression. The direction is good as Howard makes use of all his trademarks to give this story an energetic vibe but it doesn’t last for long. The first hour is pretty much uneventful and even though the next half begins on a promising note, it fizzles out sooner than expected.The screenplay includes many interesting elements but fails to fully explore any of it, which results in a lack of depth.

The film takes a while to get things moving; the increasing hostility between Essex’s Captain and first mate begins on a promising note yet isn’t stretched enough. Most of the characters inhabiting this tale are empty shells, and the script refuses to commit even when the plot delves into the darker territory. The intent to keep it on a PG-13 level really hurts its quality for it could have done so much with the resources it had. The technical aspects are still a positive. Set pieces recreate the early 19th century surroundings in splendid detail. There are plenty of memorable images: the stately ship cleaving its way through the pounding foam, the medieval harbour town, the school of whales, the decoration of Tom’s house… to name a few.

Now for the performances–the film packs an impressive ensemble in Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson & others yet it’s only a couple of them whose inputs matter. The big set-piece of the film is the whale attack– home to a handful of harrowing shots, and is effectively frightening, particularly the first moment in which the animal’s size becomes apparent. However, when it is over, the film fails to build on its foundation, and drifts off into the nether regions of apathy. The dialogue isn’t much more than shouting naval commands over the sound of crashing ocean waves but I expected as much so that is not a weakness for me, but some may find this tedious.

The cinematography radiates warm glowing images and pleasing colour tones and we even have some 3D photography thrown in. The film successfully racks up the gritty atmosphere of the ill-fated journey without pulling many punches with its unfortunate lack of depth. This is greatly demonstrated in the thunderstorm sequence as well as scenes of the killer whale wrecking havoc to the Essex which both nicely stand with beautiful (and terrifying) cinematography. The story does flounder from a fairly inconsistent pace, especially during the second half. But Ron Howard luckily knows how to keep things moving even during the dullest scenes. His greatest success comes not just from his storytelling, but his solid ability to effectively portray human drama and balance with pinches of action. Highly recommended.

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Comments

  1. Brilliant review, I’ll have to check this one out the next time I’m in the mood for a seafaring adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

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