“Heart of Sea” ambiguously medicore
Director Ron Howard has always been an interesting case to me. When he does historical drama and fictional drama, that appears to be his forte. From Apollo 13 to Backdraft, he is able to articulate the human emotion in such dangerous situations. The energy and dilemma comes from these problems like being trapped in space to rescuing innocent lives in a burning building. He knows how to capture the exhilarating rush while getting across the danger as well. However, his latest outing “In the Heart of Sea” didn’t leave me with excitement or any life changing splendor. In fact, I honestly don’t know what to make of it. I do admire the craft and effort but at the same time one must question why and what was necessary to tale this whale of a tale in the first place.
Based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book, Chris Hemsworth portrays Owen Chase, a First Mate of the historical Essex that was said to have been taken off course and badly damaged by a sperm whale on their whaling hunt. In a nuthshell, it sounds like a simple premise but yet there is an unnecessary need to extend the truth in order to make it feel grand to scale. For example, in real life, Owen was said his account of the incident was published to the public and which would later inspire Herman Melville to write his American whaling epic. On the other hand, the movie has a different accord as the story is told by one of the cabin boys, now an elderly Brendan Gleeson, who claims the story of what happened to the Essex crew has been under wraps for so long that he is the last remaining survivor to pass the tale. In fact, this exact tale is being told to a young Herman Melville who is doing research for his whale epic Moby Dick. The framing device for this feels off and only works when grisly events are needed to be described without the aspect of showing a grim event (more on that later on.) Then again, a movie like this will tend to stretch the truth so I shouldn’t be surprised for things like this.
Odd narrative aside, one can see a lot of effort into this sea-fearing epic right from the design of the Essex itself to trying to nail as much detail as possible on the disastrous whaling expedition. As it turns out their Captain (Benjamin Walker) steers the crew in a different direction as they make their way through typhoons and days of bare catch. Much like the days of no whales in sight, there is too much slow build up to the centerpiece event as we have to endure the crew mates who feel as developed as a 1970s disaster movie. Despite accuracy of who is portraying who, it feels little effort is placed on defining character much like in James Cameron’s Titanic as everyone is filled to the brim with tropes and cliches. The Captain comes off as the ignorant leader who gets his crew in trouble waters (no pun intended) while Hemsworth’s character tries to be the reasonable guy who knows better and yet no one listens to him. Again, despite the accuracy in spots, the delivery and development makes it feel more stock than actual character.
When the big whale hunt comes in, we do see a lot of brutality that is detestably tame for a PG-13. Quick warning to animal lovers, some may feel uncomfortable by the misting spray of blood the harpooned whale blows out followed by hollowing the creature out for oil and blubber. In revenge (I can only speculate,) its not till midway the eventful moment happens when a giant sperm whale attacks the ship as our crew is stranded out in the ocean as they try to make their way home. Sadly, the big scene is nearly engaging and far energetic than anything else that happens throughout the last half. The Essex crew is depicted as floating around on three boats, desperate for the search for land and even at one point enact cannibalism in order to survive.
In regards to that last point, the idea and implication is there but we don’t see much action. Those who are sensitive must be noted that while this theme is present in the last act, we don’t see anyone get munched on outside of the elderly cabin boy discuss what happened and the sight of some bones laying around one ship might upset. While the whole survival aspect carries a very unpleasant feel to it, the “Heart” of the movie lacks avoiding any power or passion to its own topic.
In Ron’s previous moves like Apollo 13, we get a sense of raw emotion and care for our characters because they are aware of the risks and do what they can to survive. Here, this is very little of it and sadly when your actors can’t convey the dread and fear of things to come, the viewers won’t feel or fear it. Even Chris Helmsworth can’t convey a single thread of emotion as in one scene he argues against the Captain’s choices and the argument is very underacted like how two Shakespearean actors would read straight from a script. And for a movie to have such promise and not deliver the pain, suffering and emotional tone of its journey, the end result makes for a rather boring fishing trip.
Posted on December 12, 2015, in In Theaters (Sort of) and tagged Chris Helmsworth, Historical drama, In the Heart of the Sea, Moby Dick, Ron Howard, Whale, Whaling. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.