In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Herman Melville’s masterpiece, Moby Dick, or The Whale, was inspired by real events. This movie purports to tell that tale: of a real whaling ship, the Essex, destroyed by a whale – but also the desperate struggle for survival by the crew following the incident, adrift a thousand miles from home.

To my shame, I have never read Moby Dick (I did pick up a free eBook version last night after viewing this movie, though!) so I’m not sure how much more the film has to offer if you’re familiar with the book the events are said to inspire. Still, I really liked the concept of the framing tale: that of Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visiting the last survivor of the Essex‘s demise, who has never before told the real events of that fateful journey.

It’s a slight shame that the survivor is a cabin boy, and therefore should have no insight whatsoever into half of the events he proceeds to tell: the relationship between Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and his wife, for instance, or how the Essex‘s owners back out on a previous promise to make Chase captain, only to hire him as first mate to an unseasoned son of a rich shipping family.

At this point, however, my interest was piqued: we have all the set up of a great psychological drama between the experienced first mate and the privileged but untried captain. And yes, the hints of this are thrown up again and again throughout the rest of the story, but… hmm.

That becomes my view of the whole thing, to be honest: ‘hmm’. There is a lot of drama to work with here, and yet it somehow failed to really hit home. I felt I should have been gripping my seat with terror when the whale attacks, and my jaw hitting the floor at the big ‘reveal’ of what survival may entail. I can only suggest that the ‘shocking’ events were so obvious that they lost most of their impact, perhaps?

In the Heart of the Sea is by no means a bad movie. It’s been made with care and often looks gorgeous – well, it would have, if not for the dire attempt at 3D! The camera angles are… often interesting (eg following down a length of rope, through a glass bottle, etc), but whether that’s a plus or minus depends on the individual viewer.

The actors were obviously hugely committed, reportedly undertaking 500-calorie a day diets to achieve the emaciated survivor look – so it’s a shame the accents are all over the place! I’d suggest the writing or editing (or both) isn’t helpful to any of the cast, with no role save that of Chase being remotely memorable: too many came across as “Let’s mention the tragic backstory and/or psychological issues – bring them up again a few times – and then largely have them be irrelevant.”

Overall, I can’t recommend this, but nor will I trash it. Ironically given the title, I really couldn’t figure out the ‘heart’ of this movie, which manages to mash up psychological drama and sweeping adventure, and make nowhere near enough of either.

Released: 26th December 2015
Viewed: 16th December 2015 (advanced, ‘secret’ screening)
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 12A- theme/pace unlikely to suit kids of any age

My rating: 5/10

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