REVIEW — “In the Heart of the Sea”
Although Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea boasts Brendan Gleeson’s solid performance and a decent second act, it suffers from poorly rendered CGI, disappointing performances, and a dreadfully slow-paced first and third act.
Brendan Gleeson’s performance as Tom Nickerson, an older man haunted by his experience surviving 90-days stranded at sea, is by far this film’s greatest strength. Even though the cast of In the Heart of the Sea includes: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Ben Wishaw, Frank Dillaine, Michelle Fairley, and Tom Holland, none of them are able to convey their emotional and psychological turmoil convincingly. Gleeson, on the other hand, is the only source of heart for this film via his flawless emotive work.
Other than one solid performance, In the Heart of the Sea also benefits from a decent second act in which Moby Dick, the legendary Sperm Whale, attacks the crew of the Whaleship Essex on several occasions. Ron Howard’s direction is at its best during the thrilling first sequence in which Moby Dick destroys the Whaleship Essex. Regrettably, this film never reaches the same height in tension, suspense, and entertainment again.
It is important to note that superb special effects are necessary in order to make a good film “Based On The Incredible True Story That Inspired Moby Dick.” Therefore, the fact that 80% of the special effects in this film consist of poorly rendered CGI that would look tacky in made-for-television movies derails much of this film. These flaws are most evident when the crew of the Whaleship Essex are on boats, which are surrounded by animated-looking waves, clouds, and backdrops. For the record, the 3D version of this film only makes the atrocious special effects more obvious and pain-inducing.
By far the most disappointing performance in this film is from Chris Hemsworth, who is better known for portraying Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Owen Chase, Hemsworth’s acting is unengaging and uninspired. Screenwriter Charles Leavitt, who previously wrote, K-Pax, Seventh Son, and Blood Diamond, opted to make Hemsworth’s Chase the main character in spite of providing him with a clichéd backstory and motivation: He is merely a seaman who leaves behind his pregnant wife to hunt whales and earn the right to become a captain. While the screenwriter is responsible for Owen Chase being dull, Hemsworth is to blame for inexplicably changing his accents through this film. Thus, the Leavitt, Howard, and Hemsworth failed to provide a protagonist worth engaging in for the actual “True Story” part of the film.
Other actors who gave noteworthy underwhelming performances include: Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, and Benajmin Walker. Although Tom Holland proved that he is capable of dominating the screen with his performance in The Impossible, he never rises above the material. As young Tom Nickerson, Tom Holland is unconvincing as a young boy thrust into a horrible situation to try to remind the audience of humanity as the crew descends into madness and abominable acts. Cillian Murphy, who portrays Matthew Joy, is unable to bring any of the charisma or personality that made his performances in Red Eye and Batman Beings entertaining. Benjamin Walker, who portrays George Pollard, gives a wooden performance that rivals Haden Christensen’s “work” in The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy.
The weakest aspect of In the Heat of the Sea is the pacing of the first and third act. In the first act, the presence of Moby Dick is neither seen nor felt. This, along with the underwhelming performances, prevents the audience from investing in any of the characters and plot lines. Also, the conflict between Captain Polland and Owen Chase, which is a battle between a person born into his position and one who has worked hard to try to obtain it, is so generic that it seems to only exist to fill up screentime. After the watchable second act, the third act features seemingly endless scenes of the crew of the Whaleship Essex stranded at sea. When Owen Chase and Moby Dick face off for the final time, the result is so rushed and anti-climactic that it leaves a bitter aftertaste long after the film concludes. The way in which the screenwriters try to conclude this film is like having an uneventful two or three minute final fight in a Godzilla film.
With all of this in mind, Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea is an epic bore of a film.