Ron Howard struggles to depict the struggles and the true terror of the Essex's sinking in 1820
Directed by Ron Howard (Rush, Angels & Demons) and screenwritten by Charles Leavitt (Warcraft, Seventh Son), In the Heart of the Sea is based on a non-fiction novel about the story that inspired the classic novel Moby-Dick. In 1820 when whaling was still a huge business, an esteemed whaleship named Essex was destroyed by a gigantic sperm whale which left the ship crew struggling for survival in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Almost every scene is beautifully shot with immersive visual experience of the sea and wide angle shots of the characters sailing and whaling. The problem is, that's all that's great about this film.
Howard reunites with Chris Hemsworth (Rush, Avengers: Age of Ultron) a.k.a. Thor, who gave a decent performance portraying the protagonist of this adaptation, Owen Chase, who's the first mate of Essex captained by the antagonised George Pollard Jr. played by Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Chase was promised to be the captain of the next whaling job but the inexperienced Pollard is promoted instead due to his family reputation and connections to the business, which is not necessarily true. Most of the main characters in the film existed in the actual events but many of its facts, that may have came from the novel, are highly questionable when compared to other sources.
It may be Leavitt's intention to give the two lead roles a power conflict and clash of personality between them to make the story more interesting, but fails in developing any depth for any of the characters and the progress of their relationship. Pollard's sense of superiority and philosophy of existence are vaguely explored. Cillian Murphy (The Dark Knight trilogy, Red Eye, 28 Days Later) is perhaps the best actor in the cast but his role as the second mate Matthew Joy, who's a very important friend to Case, is never given enough screentime, instead their relationship is only casually mentioned by the other minor crew characters. The film fails quite miserably in emotional engagement. Hemsworth lost a lot of his Thor weight for the role but even that isn't really emphasised in the film.
Despite the spectacular visuals, the almighty giant sperm whale that attacks the Essex isn't depicted as terrifying as it should've been, and the film simply struggles to show the struggles despite its convincing realism. It feels as thought it's missing of a more dramatically elaborated second act. If you've seen The Life of Pi (2012), the whole survival on a boat premise in In the Heart of the Sea can be very familiar and dull when compared with a big reveal that's no longer shocking, especially when there's no scene to show how difficult it is for the characters to commit the "abomination". That would've made a huge difference. Instead, with this, it feels more like a simple but high budget reenactment for a documentary. If you already knew about the whole story, I'm not sure what this film can truly provide for you.
Although the narrative of the film is a flashback told by Essex survivor Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson / Tom Holland) to the author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), the telling of the ideas and elements that inspired write Moby-Dick is also quite shallow and straightforward, which not only makes this style of narrative utterly pointless, it also downplays Melville's motivations and brilliance. The biggest failure of the film is its ineffective ways of conveying its ambitious themes of men-versus-nature, survival and cruelty.
Sad to say, In the Heart of the Sea is neither profound, impactful nor entertaining enough. However, it wasn't that much of a surprise after finding out that not only that the film's release was postponed from March to December, but it's also being released in Asia and elsewhere before the United States.
Malaysia censorship: If anything was cut, I didn't notice it. There are some mildly graphic scenes of butchering, but that didn't seem to be censored for the press screening.
To watch in 3D? I wouldn't recommend it. I watched it in IMAX 3-D and it didn't feel that it added any significance to the viewing experience other than it being very blur even when I tilt my head just a little.
Second opinion: My girlfriend, too, felt that the film is quite empty.
Verdict: A lot of sea but not enough heart.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Based on: Non-fiction novel "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick
Genre: Biographical epic drama
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Charles Leavitt
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Michelle Fairley, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw
Malaysia Release Date: 3 December 2015
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: Village Roadshow Pictures, Roth Films, Imagine Entertainment
Follow me: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Google+