Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: In the Heart of the Sea

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
The story depicted in Ron Howard's "In the Heart of the Sea" may have been the inspiration for Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," perhaps the greatest American novel, but the film is a little all over the place. At times, it's a drama about a clash between a first mate (Chris Hemsworth) and a spoiled rich kid captain (Benjamin Walker) and, at others, a high seas thriller with a massive whale as the villain or, to a lesser degree, the picture tries to tell a story how industry overlooks the dangers of a job and, as a result, endangers its employees.

But it doesn't appear that Howard and company knew which story was most significant and so, as a result, the film just emphasizes that it was the inspiration for "Moby Dick," as if that is all that's necessary to keep an audiences' attention.

And, on occasion, it does rivet. The scenes in which the boat's company chase whales in the water and some of the underwater photography are visually compelling. It's unfortunate that what takes place on board of the ship, which is told in flashback, as well as the present-day scenes during which one of the crew members (Brendan Gleeson) tells his tale to Melville (played here by Ben Whishaw) often rely on cliche.

Parts of the picture feel like a retread of "Mutiny on the Bounty" as Owen Chase (Hemsworth) squares off with the arrogant captain George Pollard (Walker). And the scenes in which the Massachusetts whaling industry of the early 1800s tries to cover up the incident with the 100-foot whale that kills many of the crew members on board Pollard's ship reminded me slightly of the scenes in "Jaws" when the local town doesn't want to shut down the beach.

And during the film's second half, there's a lengthy series of scenes during which Chase, Pollard and the surviving crew members are stranded for some 90 days on a raft that recall more successful films of a similar ilk - "Life of Pi" or "All is Lost," for example. And, very unfortunately, there's another plot element involving the whale that reminded me of "Jaws: The Revenge," which is not a film to emulate.

All in all, "In the Heart of the Sea" is not a bad film. It boasts some impressive visual effects and the performances are all decent enough. But it's unfocused and the story - or, rather, stories - it tells have been told much better in other films. Howard often handles period piece dramas very well - such as "Apollo 13" or "A Beautiful Mind" - but "In the Heart of the Sea" will likely go down as one of the director's minor efforts.

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