The central set piece of In the Heart of the Sea where the Essex is attacked by Moby Dick takes place around half way through the movie. It is a glorious piece of cinema- nature’s destructive powers reducing man to but a spec of dust. It is the finest moment in Ron Howard’s take on the Moby Dick story, unfortunately all that comes before and after it feels far too drawn out.
The movie is marketed as a take on Herman Melville’s great American novel but the focus is more on relationships and melodrama than on the epic tale of man vs beast. The film is framed by Melville (Ben Whishaw) himself interviewing the only surviving member of the incident, Thomas Nickerson decades after it has taken place. Nickerson (played old by Brendan Gleeson and young by Tom Holland) recounts the story of the ship’s captain- the arrogant and inexperienced George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and his relationship with his first mate- a sea man born for the job and draped in glory called Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth.)
The movie’s opening focuses on the relationship between the pair. Between one man’s love for the sea and the other man’s quest for profit and family recognition. Whilst suitably played by Chris Hemsorth and Benjamin Walker the two are difficult to like for varying reasons. Chase can do no wrong whilst Pollard is hardly a man of the people. The script feels lazy and predictable and despite the potential it never touches on the subjects you want it to.
The film eventually becomes a tale of survival. One where man is pushed to his limits in the most desperate of moments. Unfortunately Howard opts to shy away from these moments, instead opting to have Gleeson’s Nickerson recount the events with a darkened look in his eyes. It is because of these decisions that the latter half of the movie lacks the bite it should have.
As Howard so often does an impeccable cast has been assembled for the movie. Gleeson and Whishaw are both superb whilst new Spider-Man Tom Holland shows us what he has to offer working alongside his fellow Marvel superhero Chris Hemsworth. Perhaps most wasted here though is Cilian Murphy as one of the ship’s second mate Matthew Joy. Murphy has shown during his run as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders that he is one of the best period actors around and his role here is minimal other than one of his final scenes where he finally gets a chance to shine.
In the Heart of the Sea never quite gets the chance to become what it could have been. Some of the sequences are breath taking, the cinematography is gorgeous and the acting can’t be faulted- the film just doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts thanks to an uneven script.
In The Heart of the Sea opens in UK cinemas Boxing Day
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