An all around lacking piece of drama
Based Nathaniel Philbrick’s novel of the same name in 2000, the newly produced film helmed by Ron Howard tells the story of the whaleship Essex, starring the likes of Chris Hemsworth and Cillian Murphy, the movie first caught the public’s attention when it was pushed from a march release to the awards season.
As a record of the first intentional attack on human by a whale, the story that inspired ‘Moby-Dick’ by Herman Melville was told in a retrospective method with flashbacks serving as the major portion of the film. As a young author Melville (played by Ben Whishaw( interviews the survivor of Essex – an elder Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the tale of disastrous horror unfolds at a moderate pace.
The documentary styled opening foreshadows nicely of the plot, though most scenes could have used some music score to enhance initial tedium, was well established with expertly crafted close up shots. After an emotionally underwhelming parting of Owen Chase and his pregnant wife, the characters’ most prominent features and backgrounds are developed swiftly in Act 1 including the foolish pride of the ship’s captain, Benjamin Walker as George Pollard, whose name belongs to the whaling giants of their times.
The most exciting, thrilling part of the film is inarguably its main attraction point as advertised, the whale of abnormal size and hostility. As we’re shown the brutality of the whaling activity itself with nights shots reflecting the crew’s bloody spoils, we’re therefore able to grasp the white whale’s incredibly dangerous intent and the terror it’s able to inflict. As it begins to exercise its power some excellent creature designs were put into the visage, graphically elevating the developing rhythm of the plot and bringing it to a climax. Yet anywhere past this point simply seemed to be overall uninteresting save for another few brief appearances of the whale –the crew wasn’t necessarily developed enough to offer anything other than their fear, which as the sole subject of a disaster film crippled the intensity of scenes. Similarly, since the characters were underdeveloped their supposedly emotional and meaningful deaths cannot sufficiently deliver the tragedy to its full effect.
The actors have played their part adequately with the assistance of special effects and especially makeup which demonstrated an ample mastery of the desolate production design, allowing the characters to properly immerse into their situation. Yet when the tale of Moby Dick possessed grand themes including ‘Man battles nature, humbled’, reviewing In the Heart of the Sea feels feeble in comparison, as it doesn’t get much further than ‘ Hemsworth shoots, misses, nearly dies.’
The ending, though a dramatization that keeps to truth as much as all adaptations could allow, was played at a tranquil level, as the focal point had clearly transferred from the whale itself to some kind of human emotion- whether it’s fear, loyalty, hatred, forgiveness or a mix of which, the film does not demonstrate prominently in the third Act. Therefore, when comparing In the Heart of the Sea to other Ron Howard’s works such as the recent Rush, it lacked a sense of resolution overall in exchange for a seemingly more truthful description, a similar style taken by Everest of the same year, however with a slightly better control of the pacing process and character development.