If you created a Venn diagram of the casts of “Harry Potter”, “Game Of Thrones”, “Peaky Blinders” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sweet spot right in the middle would read “In The Heart Of The Sea”. Ron Howard’s latest offering is a star-studded retelling of the true story of the whaling ship Essex, which inspired the legendary novel ‘Moby Dick’.
The story of the Essex’s ill-fated voyage is related to author Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) by the last living survivor, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). Reluctantly at first, Nickerson tells the tale of his first voyage as a young cabin boy (Tom Holland) as he joined the crew under Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Although Hemsworth doesn’t quite fit the material, he’s a suitably square-jawed and steely-eyed leading man as veteran First Mate Owen Chase but Benjamin Walker all but fades into the background by comparison, leaving a vaguely Eric Bana-esque impression on the senses.
None of the cast, however, are particularly well served by Charles Leavitt’s clichéd and clumsy screenplay. The opening of the movie owes more to Marge Simpson than Melville, resembling nothing so much as a lavish adaptation of “The Harpooned Heart” from “Diatribe Of A Mad Housewife”, albeit with more graphic and distasteful details of the cruelty of the whaling industry. The characterisation of the two leads is leadenly heavy handed, especially when it comes to depicting the class warfare which riddled the Nantucket whaling industry. There’s a laziness to the writing which seems to use the fact it’s retelling a true story to excuse an episodic and disjointed narrative which fails to really capture the deeper themes and philosophical underpinnings you’d expect from the story which inspired Melville’s iconic tome.
As if in response to the weak material (it is scripted by the same person who wrote “Seventh Son”), Howard tries to inject some energy into the piece through some relentlessly restless camerawork and an anachronistically GoPro approach to many of the seafaring scenes. Unfortunately, the approach is compromised by the 3D which, although technically impressive, is simply unsuitable for the cluttered and intricate environment of a 19th century whaling ship. For your own sake, and the sake of the movie, see it in 2D without a polarised lens between you and the already muted colour palette on offer. The film does boast some fantastic imagery and manages some real tension during the appearances of the great white whale, but it feels too few and far between to compensate for what it lacks, especially when compared to the likes of “The Life Of Pi” or “Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World”.
It might have been a better idea to simply remake “Moby Dick” than this awkward dichotomy. It’s a decent seafaring yarn, but it lacks Howard’s usual visual panache and it’s seriously adrift of the depth or epic sweep to which it so clearly aspires.