Review in a Flash: “In the Heart of the Sea” is a beautiful tale that struggles to stay afloat

In the Heart of the Sea onesheet

It’s Awards Season Onslaught time! So that can mean only one thing; quickie reviews so you (and I) can get out and enjoy the season faster. Feliz Chrismukwanzyulekkah y’all!

Nutshell: Chris Hemsworth delivers an incredible, career-changing performance here. Pity the film itself flails about in a desperate search for meaning.  Top-notch whale and high-seas FX can’t disguise that this film runs out of steam halfway through. Grade: C

“The Devil love unspoken secrets. What’s yours?”

Before: Woot — did you see that trailer?  DID YOU?  It’s amazing!  Okay, I was skeptical about this film at first.  Worried that it was just a story with a high-caliber box office name attached.  And yes, while Chris Hemsworth kills it as Thor, I’d like to see him dig into something deeper than the standard box office catnip. So bring forth the high-concept catnip!

During: The start of this film showed real promise.  Horatio Hornblower sturm-und-drang between officers and crew, layered characters who could become heroes or villains depending on circumstance, and very cool historical detail.  Points for showing whaling as a difficult, disgusting, dirty job.  There’s no glamour here, only what needs to be done.  Absolutely fascinating.  A slight wrap-around story involving Herman Melville getting the real story of the Essex that doesn’t take up too much time but does give me some lovely Brendan Gleeson and Michelle “Catelyn Stark” Fairley time.  My bestest guy-pal should be kicking himself for missing this…or so I thought.

Once the whale scuttles the ship — no spoiler here, it’s shown loud and proud in the trailer — the story scuttles as well.  Yes, the survivors have little to do but try to survive the heat and lack of food and water.  Yes, Hemsworth and the other actors in these scenes deliver amazing performances as their characters try to continue to exist.  Hemsworth is believable as First Mate Owen Chase, and really gets into that character’s skin.  So much so that I’m hoping he’ll try a few indies in-between MCU films to really flex is acting chops.  But in Heart the action comes to a screaming halt before the halfway point.  It’s as if Heart is two movies crushed together; a slam-bang action adventure promised in the trailer, and a survival epic that’s barely touched on in pre-release 411.

The problem with In the Heart of the Sea is not that it’s not an intriguing story.  It is.  It’s just not the epic amazing slam-dunk that it should have been.  It could be because the characters aren’t developed beyond a Reader’s Digest tidbit before things really get going, so when they die/are put in danger, it doesn’t have that gut-punch effect.  It could be that director Ron Howard tries to cram too much into the film, so the “money shot” whale sequences almost feel like an afterthought, with the Master and Commander-level excitement wrapping up less than halfway through the film. It could be that I was  hoping for more of an action epic, as that’s what the trailer promised.  Or, it could simply be a case of great idea, horrible execution.  Possibly a mix of all the above.

After: I still don’t know what to make of this film.  Apparently the filmmakers don’t either.  Does it want to be a riff on the biopic genre?  A rock-’em-sock-’em high seas adventure?  A look at how obsession can damage lives?  Because if so, it fails on all counts.  Go see this film if you’re interested in very cool, incredibly excellent high-seas FX, and don’t mind a long slog to the ending after the epic fun screeches to a halt.  But if you’re looking for a backstory on Moby Dick that delves deeper than a Wikipedia page, you won’t be happy here.

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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