Full Disclosure: I would not have seen this movie had I not had a free screening to do so. The trailers didn’t make it look appealing and frankly stories about people at sea are somewhat boring to me. I like Ron Howard as a director and he usually has a knack for picking great movies to direct, however, I wonder if he knew this wasn’t a strong film after he chose it? Admittedly, it was better than I thought it was, but that is not saying too much. Before I go any further, I need to confess something.
I do not think Chris Hemsworth is a good actor.
Think about it. When has he ever delivered a seriously good performance? Some might say, Rush but I could argue that he’s just simply playing a morphed version of himself that didn’t really stretch his acting ability. For me, he’s never been a part of a scene where I’ve managed to sit back and think, “WOW, that guy can act.” and believe me, I’ve done that to plenty of actors. I could also make a case for the movie Blackhat, which no one saw, but even then he doesn’t really have any scenes that stick out to you. Sure, we all love him as Thor and yes, he is funny at times in cameo roles, but if you really dig deep on this Hemsworth hasn’t really produced a strong acting resume. Plus, I can’t stand that he cannot do an American accent correctly. It always sounds ridiculously over the top or just non-existent. Which brings me to this movie, where Hemsworth plays a Nantucket fisherman and has some sort of resemblance of a Bostonian accent mixed with his overbearing Aussie speak. It’s bad and it was very noticeable. It was so blatant that it took me completely out of the movie every time he delivered a serious portion of dialogue.
The overall story centered around author Herman Melville calling upon the last living survivor of The Essex, the ship that Hemsworth’s character was First Mate, after its infamous time at sea chasing a white whale off the coast of South America. Melville attempts to interview the man, who even in old age is clearly bothered by his ordeal, in an effort to write a novel of fiction depicting portion of the aforementioned events. He admits to the survivor, who name is Thomas Nickerson, that he feels compelled to write this novel to the point where his obsession over it has felt more like torture than anything else.
The movie is told in two parts: through the present conversation between Melville and Nickerson and Nickerson’s flashback account of the voyage on The Essex. To be completely honest, I found the conversation the more compelling portion of the two. I actually paid more attention to it partly due to Brendan Gleeson’s ability to wring everything he possibly could out of the script he was given. Also of note, Ben Whishaw, who is most recognizable as “Q” from the latest Bond films, did a fantastic job as Herman Melville. He has this delicate tone in his voice that seems as if everything that he is saying is of the utmost importance. In the end, the moments at sea are what the viewers have come to the theater to see. I know I’m not being objective when I write that those types of scenarios in the ocean bore me because they are almost always depicted the same way. Man vs. Nature frames the experience and while that is a base conflict that is always something of note, I’ve yet to see this form of conflict shown in a different light. This film is no different. Take every single movie at sea that you’ve seen. Put them together and you’ve watched In the Heart of the Sea. While you think that the conflict of finding and killing this infamous white whale would take center stage, it’s merely a blip in an overly drawn out movie.
The one exception to this was last year’s All is Lost featuring Robert Redford. It was a man, lost at sea while his boat was sinking, but showed his battle to survive with almost no dialogue. Say what you will about how that might sound as a movie, but it’s an example of a similar premise shown in a different manner. That keeps my attention. In the Heart of the Sea tried. It really tried, but in the end, it just ended up being another movie about men at sea.
Even now, I can feel that if you’ve made it this far in my review you’re getting bored. Well, the feeling you’re experiencing while attempting to read this is the exact feeling you’ll feel while watching this movie.
There were parts that did succeed. I have mentioned already Whishaw and Gleeson’s performances, but who I forgot to mention is newcomer Tom Holland. You might recognize the name as the newly cast Spiderman that will be a featured player in the Marvel Universe moving forward. Holland did a well enough job with his time onscreen. He was there just long enough for you to wonder, “Hey, who is that guy?” and then once you look him up realize that you wouldn’t mind seeing him in more stuff. Also, the character of Captain George Pollard played by Benjamin Walker was a captivating performance that rivaled Gleeson and Holland. Pollard, who serves as the mirror to Hemsworth’s First Mate, Owen Chase, played his character with perfect amount of force, sternness and slight madness. Finally, Cillian Murphy’s 2nd Mate Matthew Joy was proof that even given a small window of screentime in an exceptional actor’s hands, you can turn out truly gritty and memorable performances. To put it simply, Murphy outshined Hemsworth in this film and he might have spoken 10 – 15 lines of dialogue. I stick by that.
As I finish writing this, I realize that Hemsworth was just the “face” that attempted to draw everyone to the theater along with the credibility of Ron Howard at the helm of this film I can understand why Warner Bros. was fine with making this film. The truth is that it is just not a compelling film. I understand that not every movie needs to be excellent, and as I said earlier, this movie really tried, but in the end it just fell short. Overall, In the Heart of the Sea was not a great movie, but it also fell victim of not being a bad movie either which means that it falls somewhere in the middle and that is never a place any film wants to reside because that is a guarantee for irrelevance. It simply failed to reach its full potential. To put it simpler terms for those that might not have seen this yet: I’m glad I did not have to pay to see this movie. I think I would’ve even had buyer’s remorse for a matinee time, but that depends specifically on the company you take with you.
In the Heart of the Sea: 2 Garys