To put it in its simplest terms, In the Heart of the Sea is basically the story of the real-life tale that inspired Herman Melville’s legendary Moby-Dick. As Melville (Ben Whishaw) sits down with the last remaining survivor of New England’s doomed Essex vessel, we get to hear how one whaling ship’s mission was decimated by a ginormous white whale.
Almost mirroring elements of Titanic in how we find a classic yarn revisited through flashbacks and memoirs, Ron Howard’s movie is certainly an intriguing one. As our way in to the story, we see Melville trying to extract the finer details of the Essex’s demise from its last remaining surviving, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). It’s then that we’re then taken back to 1820 and an Essex that sets sail on a mission to bring back a gargantuan amount of whale oil, essentially the fuel of its day. With a young Nickerson (Tom Holland) as part of the crew, the Captain of the vessel is George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), a man with very little prior experience but who is well-revered in the shipping industry purely down to his surname (well, in fairness, it is a pretty cool name). Whilst the crew cannot take to Pollard and his decisions are not always the wisest ones, First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) is a man of the people, an experienced sea dog who knows the ocean and who has the respect of many. The problem for Chase is, however, he doesn’t have the right surname in an industry that’s all about heritage. With the Essex struggling, the decision’s made to veer out to a location that apparently houses hundreds of whales but which also carries the almost mythical threat of a 100-foot white whale with slight anger issues.
Howard’s film is predictable, yet that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. If you can get past Hemsworth’s mish-mash of an accent (part New England local, part booming Thunder God), there are plenty of impressive turns to be seen. Supporting performances from Holland, Whishaw, Gleeson, and Cillian Murphy (as Chase’s long-standing partner-in-crime) are all pitch-perfect, but the focus of the tale is really on Hemsworth’s Chase and Walker’s Pollard. Walker is fantastic as the inexperienced toff who is determined to stamp his authority on the voyage, whilst Hemsworth is nothing more than fine in his role. It feels for a few years we’ve been waiting for Hemsworth to finally step up as a leading Hollywood man, but In the Heart of the Sea sees him do well enough without really standing out.
As a spectacle, the film is stunning at times, with the visuals spectacular, but the story itself is the problem here; a predictable, one-note narrative that ultimately never really manages to truly capture your attention.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: RON HOWARD / SCREENPLAY: CHARLES LEAVITT / STARRING: CHRIS HEMSWORTH, BENJAMIN WALKER, CILLIAN MURPHY, TOM HOLLAND, BEN WHISHAW, BRENDAN GLEESON / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 26TH
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10