If there’s any director who used to make great films, it’s Ron Howard. While Rush made it appear as if maybe someone had finally lit the fires and kicked his tires, here we are with one of the year’s most boring films, In the Heart of the Sea. Adapting Nathaniel Philbrick’s novel, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, should have been a cakewalk. And while screenwriter Charles Leavitt gives us one or two fantastic action sequences involving the whale attack that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick and John Huston’s epic film, what we’re left with here is not the whale of a tale we were hoping — instead, it’s more like Jaws meets Castaway, but nowhere near as fun as that sounds. Not even close.
In 1850, Melville (Ben Whishaw) has just arrived in Nantucket, seeking out Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the sole survivor of the fateful Essex vessel. Melville offers Tom all the money he has in the world for one good story — one Tom won’t even share with his wife (Michelle Fairley). Bouncing back and forth from 1850 to the disastrous whaling expedition, we join the rest of the crew, including First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy) and teenage deck swabbing Tom (Tom Holland). Everyone is off in search of whale oil, something Chase manages to bring back more than anyone else, and it’s not long before they’re attacked by the giant sperm whale and fighting for their lives.
Whaling, the high seas, and cannibalism all sound like the makings of an interesting film, but Howard and company let everyone down with horrendous pacing. It takes forever to get to the action beats, and you never care who lives or dies as the whale attacks. The bickering between Chase and Pollard is supposed to give the film some emotional heft, but they both come across as pompous. And while some may be interested in the fact that this is the first chance to see Thor and Spider-man on screen together for the first time, don’t get too excited. Their interaction is few and far between and honestly, it could have made a far more interesting story had Chase played surrogate older brother, but that never comes to light.
Howard is clearing aiming for Oscars with In the Heart of the Sea, and there may be some technical nominations in its future — one thing it will never win is for cinematography. While managing to pull off the feat of making you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the action, it means you feel like you’re standing on the rocking boat. Seasickness is bound to strike the most average moviegoer, only to be exacerbated with being in 3D. The whale should have been the star of the show, and whenever it comes to attack this is certainly one realistic sea creature. So much so, that Warner Bros. used their footage to finally convince Eli Roth to jump on the long gestating megalodon flick Meg.
Somewhere, In the Heart of the Sea, there’s a way better movie to be made. But alas, this isn’t it. The film is a complete bore and doesn’t really deserve any kind of special mention aside from the whale footage. And on that note, anyone with even an inkling of interest might as well hold off to watch it at home from the safety of their own couch, with a bucket standing by. The cliche “thar she blows” gets hollered more than a couple of times, and sadly, the same is all there is to say.