IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (USA/Spain 2015) **
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, Tom Holland
Review by Gilbert Seah
Ron Howard, the Hollywood director best known for playing Richie Cunningham in HAPPY DAYS is also known for his blockbuster films like SPLASH, PARENTHOOD, APOLLO 13 and A BEAUTIFUL MIND. The films share one common characteristic. Box-office successes though they may be, they are all very forgettable films. After a year of viewing any of his films, there is not much one can remember from any of the films’ scenes.
Based on the 2000 non-fiction book In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and adapted by Charles Leavitt to the script, this is supposed to be the story that inspired Herman Melville to write the classic tale Moby Dick. In 1820, the whaling ship Essex is crewed by the Captain George Pollard, Jr., (Benjamin Walker) first officer Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), second officer Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy) who has nothing much to do but sit around and grow a beard, and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland). During their voyage, the ship is sunk when it is rammed and split in half by a very large and enraged bull sperm whale, ultimately leaving its crew shipwrecked at sea for 90 days and more than a thousand miles from land. After the attack, the crew sails for South America and is forced to resort to cannibalism. The tale is told by a very reluctant older Matthew Joy (Brendan Gleeson) to budding author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) pressured by his good wife (Michelle Fairley) in order to exorcise his demons. Apparently it is the cannibalism that is the problem but the wife seems to accept it after overhearing the story, thus undermining its importance in the story. The audience is neither shocked at her acceptance. The events of the Essex crew are intercut with Matthew telling the story to Herman in his house.
This intercutting is annoying and serves to interrupt whatever suspense or action the film has built up. Director Howard keeps nagging the audience to remind them fact that Herman really does not want to tell the story, as every time the film cuts back to the two men, Herman complains or changes his mind. Yes, the audience has got the point.
The special effects and CGI are lacklustre. The 3D looks like back projection and one can see the various layers and shadows in the scenes. And with CGI use these days on all the Hollywood films, one can hardly get excited when a CGI action scene appears on the big screen.
The film also contains some of the worst acting in a film on this side of the Atlantic, where the whales are. Chris Hemsworth and relative newcomer Benjamin Walker look totally uninterested in the material. They are supposed to portray two shipmates ready to kill each other. The usually excellent Brendan Gleeson is largely wasted in a role in which he just mopes, drinking and complaining.
For an action film, Howard’s film can hardly be called exciting. The whale attack scenes with the monster splashing around the Essex creates less tension than a goldfish in my bath tub.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA might turn out the most memorable of the Ron Howard films. But for all the wrong reasons.