It’s funny that Ron Howard’s new film In The Heart Of The Sea made me pause and reflect that I started my written reviews at the beginning of the year with Michael Mann’s Blackhat. So, that means that at the time of this review my whole body of written work is bookended by mediocre Chris Hemsworth films. Honestly, it could be a hell of a lot worse as the new film, based on the Nathaniel Philbrick book of the same name, isn’t terrible, it’s just incredibly bland.
Howard and Hemsworth are teaming up for the second time after 2013’s Rush – which saw them take on the true story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda’s famed Formula One racing rivalry. The film was very well received and earned two Golden Globe nominations, one for best picture and one for supporting actor Daniel Bruhl who played Lauda. It should be noted that Howard and Hemsworth were never even in the conversation of awards and this new film won’t be either.
The film tells the true story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick, a fictionalized account of the tale. The film starts out with Melville (Ben Whishaw), a frazzled writer who has hit a creative wall, going to interview Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a survivor of the Essex – a whaling ship that was attacked by a giant white whale in the 1820s, stranding the crew and forcing them into unbearable situations and abominable choices.
Tom tells his story to Melville, which started when we was just a teen (Tom Holland) on his first whaling voyage under Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and reluctant first mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth), who was originally promised to be captain. Disgruntled but feeling an obligation to see the voyage through, Chase takes charge along with his good friend Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy) to make sure this trip is lucrative and ensure a captaincy for him.
The ship sets out and eventually finds a whale, which they quickly harvest everything they need from it. Unfortunately after this one whale their luck runs aground as they don’t come across anymore whales and decide to dock in South America. While there, they come across a Spanish Captain missing an arm, drinking his sorrows away in a local tavern. He tells Pollard, Chase and Joy about an area where there’s an abundance of whales, but something else. Something monstrous.
Disbelieving the Spanish captain’s warnings, Pollard orders the crew to chart a path to this motherload of whales for the crew to harvest. Quickly, they find themselves in the warpath of a giant white whale looking to destroy any man in the area. The result is a pretty epic destruction of the Essex (no spoiler there, it’s in the trailer) – probably the highlight of the entire film and sets our characters on their path of survival.
As I stated before, the whole film’s blandness really bogs the film into the umbrella of “who really cares?” The fact that Howard wanted to put this film in 3D, at times, completely undermines the CGI used in the film and a lot of the big effects scenes with a human element involved comes of very noticeably green screened and really pulls you out of any realness the movie is trying to bring.
To add to all the bland parts in the actual story and presentation, every character in this film seems like a completely stock character. Chase is the idealistic whaler with the love and respect of his men who has a doting wife at home that just wants him to come home. She’s also pregnant for added effect. Captain Pollard is a company man, only out for the bottom line and, of course, we have a weasley little entitled cousin of his (Frank Dillane) who is quick to turn on people in dire situations. Even a good character actor like Cillian Murphy is stuck in a two dimensional role who’s only quirk is that he refuses to imbibe as his captain wants him to. Utterly wasting a good actor.
I think the biggest issue is Hemsworth is not a developed enough star to hang this film on. His Nantucket accent ebbs and flows just like the tides in which this movie takes place in and it’s noticeable every time it slips out. This bugs me as I do like Chris Hemsworth, but he’s a large part of the mediocrity of this film, different from Blackhat where Michael Mann’s story and execution dragged the film down halfway through.
For those looking for a adventurous high sea adventure film are going to be let down with this largely anemic film. Being told in a narrative from Brendan Gleeson’s incredibly cliched “haunted man” performance is probably the only way about telling this story but just lacks any sort of originality and may cause you a face palm when he has a slight breakthrough after telling it. It’s so heavy handed. If anything, this might be a good chance for people to check out new Spider-Man Tom Holland in this film ahead of Captain America: Civil War next year. Sadly, I was dragged to the depths with this one and give it a two out of five.