While In the Heart of the Sea looks great, a handful of issues are just too hard to ignore when you scratch above the surface. Although decently directed at times, a disappointing screenplay makes for a tough watch that may leave you checking your watch more than you would hope.
Adapted from the hugely popular ‘Moby Dick’, the story is told in retrospect as Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) recounts the story of the whaling boat Essex to author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw). Conjuring images of the past, Nickerson delves deep, remembering the ship, the crew and their overall survival during a whaling expedition gone wrong.
Taking the dangerous and making it look good is something that Ron Howard is extremely good at. Whether its the fast pace of the formula 1 circuit, the haunting reality of space flight or even the heat of a political discussion, Howard manages to find beauty in a beast – its just a shame then that, like the book, this beast is untameable.
On the surface, In the Heart of the Sea is a good looking film. The first 20 minutes is a master class of technical camera techniques, shaping the scene perfectly for the adventure the crew are about to take. Clever integration of 3D (if you are that way inclined) does give an increased depth, but it doesn’t necessarily add anything that we haven’t seen before. Unusually for Ron Howard however, thats about as impressive as it gets.
Pacing issues are rife, with most of the action being in the first half and nothing in the second. The action heavy beginning leads to underdeveloped characters, making the second half feel both long winded and at times, boring. It’s this misbalanced plot that takes the most away from the production and as such, makes the film feel a lot longer than it should. Its issues are further emphasised with its narration based story telling – acting mainly to break up the monotony of the second act rather than increase tension between scenes. Although there are some iconic scenes from the book, these are not fully realised
The real question we should be asking however is whether this story is for the silver screen. With whaling being a big issue are audiences missing the point? Its a slow burning page turner rather than an action packed Da Vinci code that will leave you wondering whether 2 hours is enough time to get the real point across.
Unfortunately adding to the issue is the acting. On paper, the cast is amazing – in reality, they just don’t seem to blend very well. Chris Hemsworth tries hard but for some reason we are left wondering whether he truly can be that leading man that people think he is. Tom Holland is OK but only really displays one emotion throughout. Cillian Murphy is the only stand out member of the cast as even Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson and Michelle Fairley don’t exactly give us anything credible. Considering its set in the heart of the US, the thick, broad Boston accents are somewhat of a distraction as none of the actors can pull it off.
Oddly paced and lacking important tone, In the Heart of the Sea is a rare miss from one of the industries greats. With sea faring easily its most attractive aspect, an unfortunate trifector of questionable casting, underdeveloped character details and a true ‘white whale’ of a script makes us wonder whether this beast will ever be tamed! 2.5 out of 5.