The film’s trailer promised some kind of rip-snorting sea-based thriller but it ended up being an under-cooked damp squib; Ron Howard’s less-than-epic In The Heart of The Sea needed to delve far deeper into the world’s far-reaching waters to salvage the soul that his spectacle desperately lacked. Reteaming with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) following their enjoyable race car biopic Rush in 2013, The Beautiful Mind helmer’s latest feature focuses on the true life story that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick.
As famed author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) plans his next work, he’s determined to speak to a reluctant survivor of the Halifax, a New England whaling ship which sank under controversial circumstances in 1820. Just 14 at the time of the incident, Brendan Gleeson’s Tom Nickerson (the younger self of whom is played by new Spider-man, Tom Holland) – tired, wearied and reliant on the bottle to erase the memories of his harrowing experience on board the ship – opens up, as if in a whiskey fuelled counselling session, to the writer about what really went down all those years ago.
Describing their harrowing journey in search of whale oil, his tale focuses in on the volatile relationship between Chris Hemsworth’s sea-hardened First Mate, Owen Chase, and posh boy Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as well as the tragic aftermath of the infamous sinking which resulted in the ship’s crew being stranded for 90 days at sea (think Life of Pi but without the tiger) where their chances of survival led in desperate measures.
It’s not that In The Heart of The Sea is a total shipwreck, but as the beards grow longer and the sunburn gets worse, it appears that the only element really demonstrating this crews’ supposedly torturous circumstances is an effective make-up department. Hemsworth scowls and Gleeson recounts his woes in remorseful fashion, but this watery tale gets stuck in a 100ft crossroads between wanting to be both a dramatic sea action thriller and a searching character study, resulting in it being neither.
The Pollard-Chase, Captain versus First Mate rivalry is Howard’s saving grace. Ideas of class, culture and entitlement float over its otherwise surface deep complexion, but Hemsworth and Walker, at least in their own bickering way, deliver an interesting exchange that adds some spice to an ever-clunky spectacle. However, the film makes so many sidesteps that it can’t anchor; hovering around relationships it can never fully develop (Chase and the young Thomas Nickerson, for example), whilst failing to fully capitalise on the killer “demon” gliding through the seas which the story takes so long to set up.
Big buckets of action, a smidgen of drama and a sprinkling of Jaws-like revenge, In The Heart of The Sea flatters to deceive as a faltering sea spectacle that never quite gets further than dipping its toes into a vast amount of CGI infested water.