Ron Howard has always been a pretty meat-and-potatoes filmmaker, but it’s remarkable how he manages to take the story of a huge murderous whale ruthlessly stalking its human prey, and make a movie as dull as In the Heart of the Sea. Rather than ramping up the pulpy thrills that are there for the taking, the film adopts a deadly serious tone throughout, as characters are put through terrible hardships, seemingly intended to wring out anguished, awards-friendly performances.
Chris Hemsworth plays the first mate of a New England whaling ship, circa 1820, who becomes stranded along with his crew when a particularly large specimen decides to turn the tables. Early scenes of whale slaughter suggest Howard might take an interest in the relationship between industry and nature, but these ideas are quickly set adrift.
The main story is presented to us as a tale being told to Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw), as fodder for his novel Moby Dick. Despite valiant efforts from the usually stellar Wishaw and Brendan Gleeson, these scenes only provide unnecessary clutter, and are somehow more of a slog than the ones that involve slowly dying at sea.
It’s not all bad. Howard and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle make sure In the Heart of the Sea looks great, stuffing in beautiful vistas, nifty CGI and adventurous camera work. But the conclusion to the face-off between man and beast is so ridiculous and vague, you’ll likely leave the cinema wondering what the point of all that misery was.
‘In the Heart of the Sea’ Movie Times