Genre: Action, Adventure, Biography
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Tom Holland
Everyone knows Moby-Dick, the great American literary phenomenon of the 19th century. Not everyone has read it, of course, but that most famous of opening lines, “Call me Ishmael” is a particularly well-known one. What is less well-known is the context with which the book was written – the events that inspired it – and it is in this that the basis for the 2000 novel In the Heart of the Sea, and this subsequent film adaptation lies.
It struck me before even entering the cinema that already this presents a problem for the film – if the story about to unfold merely ‘inspired’ Moby-Dick, will it really stand up on its own? Now having seen the film, the answer, to put it simply, is not really.It’s not a case of the plot being too thinly stretched over the screen-time, nor necessarily of the plot taking too many unbelievable turns – though there are fantastical and surprising elements, most of them do still seem to fall within the realms of reality that surround seafaring at this time in history. Rather, the problem is that as the film wears on, it feels less and less like a story of its own, and more and more like a mishmash of a few typical plot turns thrown together. There’s an admirably secure set-up, but the film fails to suitably build upon this start.
Yet at the same time, it must be said that it packs an emotional punch, and that, from the film’s perspective, arguably represents success. It does feel a bit like emotional blackmail, with one too many scenes thrown in to rope you in, but, reluctantly, you do end up sympathising with the characters. This alone makes it one of Ron Howards better films over the last decade, though perhaps that isn’t saying much given for every Frost/Nixon, there are the languid Dan Brown adaptations in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons (with a third worryingly out next year).It’s questionable as to whether such emotional success is down to Howard or his cast, a remarkably strong array of established and rising talent. At the top of the pile, Chris Hemsworth gives a good performance as Owen Chase – a heroic character, but not a perfect one – and is joined by reliable performers in Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw. Meanwhile, equally strong portrayals come from Tom Holland and Frank Dillane, the soon-to-be-Spiderman and drug-addict son in Fear the Walking Dead respectively.
Of course, one couldn’t avoid touching upon the films visuals, if only because of the effort it takes with them. While the effects that realise the boat out at sea are certainly captivating, closer to shore there’s a slightly odd tone, with a sort of miniature effect applied, making everything look just a bit weird. Thankfully, Howard isn’t Zack Snyder, and isn’t entirely reliant on artificial backdrops, exploiting the natural resource of the open sea to good effect at times.
Don’t expect to come away from In the Heart of the Sea feeling particularly stimulated mentally, but if you’re after an earnest, emotional alternative to the new Star Wars, then this isn’t that bad a bet.