In the Heart of the Sea
Dir: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, and Tom Holland
2.75 out of 5.00
In the Heart of the Sea
MONTE YAZZIE ~ THE FOOTHILLS FOCUS~ 12/16/2015
Ambition has led many people into foolhardy battles with nature, and it’s no surprise that nature has a pretty good winning percentage. Ron Howard’s film “In the Heart of the Sea”, a film that mixes factual history with some fiction, displays the encounter author Herman Melville had with an aged seafarer who was on a boat attacked by the alabaster whale that influenced “Moby-Dick”. Ron Howard is an accomplished storyteller; look no further than “A Beautiful Mind” and “Frost/Nixon” for examples. “In the Heart of the Sea” seems tailored for Howard’s style of filmmaking with its historical era design and strong willed, flawed characters. Unfortunately, the film misses the mark with many of the epic and emotional qualities it desperately tries to craft, making “In the Heart of the Sea” feel like a ship on verge of sinking.
Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) enters the home of Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a man who has a story of a giant whale that attacked a ship he was working on as a young boy. The ship, called the Essex, was based out of Nantucket and set sail under the guidance of two men forced to work with one another, Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). The Essex, having difficulty locating the prized whales, extends its voyage far into the Pacific Ocean for many years. Catastrophe comes with a splash from the ocean’s depths, as a giant whale begins hunting the Essex.
Who doesn’t like a good “man versus nature” film? Whether a group of climbers trudging up the deadly ledges of Mount Everest, a woman making her way across the Pacific Crest Trail, or three men hunting down a great white shark, the best of these films that pit ambitious humans against the strengths of nature have a way of revealing both the good and bad of human nature. While most of the trailers for “In the Heart of the Sea” portray an action adventure film, there is also a human aspect that plays a pivotal role in the latter half of the film, one that attempts to shows how desperation can lead to depravity. The two leaders of the Essex, both of them persuaded by greed and pushed by pride to display their dominance over nature, drive the crew further into the nothingness of the ocean. The follies of human nature are clearly displayed throughout the film, from the misguided leadership on board the Essex to the greediness of the whaling company in Nantucket, the journey seems doomed from the beginning. Howard heavy-handedly pulls no punches with the development of the characters; the only care for character is taken with Herman Melville and Tom Nickerson when they are cut back into the film at the most dramatic of moments during their night of storytelling. Where Howard restrains himself is with the most important narrative aspect of the film, when the men become desperate and make unimaginable choices for survival. Instead of pushing the film into complicated moments, the film instead sails by, barely taking time to examine the emotions of the characters during this time.
The issue with the film primarily lies in Howard’s decision to paint this film, the characters, the story, and the style, with the broadest of strokes. The characters are large embodiments of hard working men with limited emotions; the story follows a straightforward structure even when it takes a turn to display the men desperate and forced to make unthinkable choices, and the style is so obviously overdone that when water splashes, or whales breach, or storms swirl, everything looks artificial and it pulls the viewer out of the film.
Ron Howard is a great director and, even with the many negative issues, the film crafts a quality somewhat similar to a summer blockbuster film, though that probably wasn’t what was meant from the tragic source material this film is based off. “In the Heart of the Sea” tries to reach beyond the most basic story of men at war with nature but comes up short on most points. Fortunately, your local library will have the story that does display the intriguing journey that was attempted for here.