I am a huge Ron Howard fan and I have loved his films for decades. Be it Apollo 13, the magical A Beautiful Mind, The Cinderella Man or for that matter the more recent one like Angels And Demons, The Da Vinci Code and Rush, I have watched most of his films more than once and have always felt a sense of enjoyment and liking even in repeat views. That however doesn’t seem to be the case with In The Heart Of The Sea. I had real trouble finishing off this film even once and sans some sensational visuals of whale hunting and those two attacks when the Great White pulverizes the crew, the film is an endless drag.
In 1850, author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visits innkeeper Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last survivor of the whale ship Essex’s last voyage, offering money in return for his story. Nickerson initially refuses, but finally agrees when his wife intervenes. The story then flash backs to 1820 Nantucket where the Essex has been refixed and is ready to sail for its whaling voyage. The company hands over the captaincy of the ship to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) a man from a distinguished Whaling family but with little experience under his belts. His first mate is Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) the man who was slated to get the captaincy but was ignored because of Pollard’s lineage. As the ship sets sail for the ocean, constant conflicts between Pollard and Chase leads to the crew as well as the ship being endangered. The two finally decide to settle the matter and join forces.
They land up with a whale but then hit a lean patch for almost three months. Learning from a captain about a patch of water abundant in whales, the ship makes it way towards those waters. They are also warned that the water is infested by a Great White Whale that protects the other and is also the one that sunk the ship of the man telling the story. The men still make their way towards the waters. They do land up with a patch full of whales but then disaster strikes. The Great White wrecks havoc and destroys their ship killing two of the crew members and leaving the rest in the midst of the ocean with nowhere to go. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative.
Even a layman can pin point that there are two parallel stories in this narrative. While one involves the fight of the men against the whale the other involves the conflicts of the men between each other and within each other. Obviously the interesting of the two stories is the first one and unfortunately, Howard ignores that for the later. To start with, the film takes ages to get to the point. The first half is dedicated to setting up the premise and the awkward camaraderie between the captain and the first mate. They are first jilted of each other, the matter gets worse and then they realize their folly and come together to ensure that they don’t come home without any oil. This part takes up a considerable amount of time to build and really drags a lot.
Then the whale attack happens and you are mesmerized and fixed for atleast ten fifteen minutes. The visuals and the sense of power of the nature and the realization of how puny we are in front of it make for a great watch. However as soon as the whale makes its way out of the screen and we are once again left in a Life Of Pie-esqu situation, the narrative and the interest takes a downward deep. This is where the performances could have kept the story breezy but that is not the case here. I was particularly disappointed by the act of Hemsworth who seems to be sleep walking through his role. Gone is the man from Rush who was not only enterprising but also extremely relatable. What we have here is a man who is not threatened by anything let alone show some human traits and let us feel for him or connect with him at a different level. Benjamin Walker starts of strong and some of the scenes involving him and Hemsworth are actually quite good but soon his act deeps too.
The film is beautifully shot and has some amazing visual effects especially in the scenes involving the whale. There are a few shots that seem shot against a green screen but that can be excused. The editing is top notch and presents the action in the right speed and flow for us to enjoy. But then again, there is very little of it. That’s the problem that haunts this film. It tries too much to concentrate on the drama and in doing so forgets to utilize its biggest pluses. I truly feel that this film should have emphasized more on the whale human conflict. It needed to pull a few more action set pieces and some more one to ones with the whale. The first half should have cut short the drama between Chase and Pollard. The second half could have done better with some more thrills and lesser drama. The performances could have been better which would heavily contribute in getting the viewers invested in the narrative.
In The Heart Of The Sea made us think that it was high sea adventure through its promos. That was wrong because it is not. It borders on being a high sea drama and survival story. It is strictly a onetime watch and that too if you have a lot of patience. The film does provide some superb visuals and great human-nature conflict in a few scenes but that’s hardly reason enough to sit through scene after scene of unnecessary drama that takes the story nowhere. Howard should have known better to infuse more thrills and edge of the seat moments in a film like this where it was the need of the hour.