When I hear the name Ron Howard I automatically think “Oscar bait”. That’s okay, though, because I love me some good ol’ Oscar bait. That said, there’s a problem with In the Heart of the Sea. The film was originally slated for a spring 2015 release, but got bumped to December. This means that it was either going to release too late for this year’s Oscars and they wanted a nomination, or that it sucked. This advance screening clears this up.
In the Heart of the Sea starts off strong, with author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) meeting the last survivor of the failed whaling expedition of the Essex, Thomas Nickerson (Brandon Gleeson). After some money is offered, Thomas reluctantly starts to tell the tale which inspired Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick.
First things first, this isn’t a retelling of Moby Dick, so don’t go in expecting that. The film itself warns you very early on that this isn’t a story about a whale, but of two men and their forced co-existence on a ship. Sadly, the chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Benjamin Walker is awful, with Walker just doing a paint by numbers job, and Hemsworth attempting to act, which, let’s be honest, is never great, and this role requires strong acting skills. Frankly, he completely falls apart in the film’s finale.
To be fair, the chemistry between Whishaw and Gleeson, as they tell the story, is fantastic. These are two actors who always seem to bring it, and both are on top of their game here. The always excellent Cillian Murphy is unfortunately wasted in a throw away role. The film’s biggest acting problem is the casting of Frank Dillane, whom you may know from Fear the Walking Dead or Sense8. This guy, who is a trained actor from London, is atrocious in every role he is in, and is excellent proof that schooling doesn’t mean you’re good at your job.
The first hour of In the Heart of the Sea is both interesting and exciting. Once we see the whales, we get some fantastic shots that looked so great I honestly couldn’t tell if they were CGI or practical effects. After some events transpire, the film just bogs down and drags for its final hour. I’ve seen this a thousand times before. I won’t ruin it, even though it is based on a true story, but it is just not a captivating enough story to fill the runtime. The make-up effects in the final act are all over the place, which really effected my suspension of disbelief in the final moments of the movie.
Ron Howard is a pretty good director, but he does have some duds out there. With In the Heart of the Sea he finds some fantastic shots, and there is a moment involving the retrieving of oil from a whale that hits all of the right notes. However, there are some truly odd choices thrown into the mix as well. For example, as we see the town in the film’s opening moments, there’s this random close-up of a dog eating corn on the cob that I could find no meaning behind. It’s these weird, “artsy” moments that just make no sense. They don’t happen often, but are jarring enough to pull you out from the story.
In the Heart of the Sea isn’t a terrible film. It’s not worth seeing either. The acting is hit or miss all across the board, and the final hour is far from captivating, all the way to the point where I had to force myself to stay awake. I recommend skipping this one as there are much better films in the theaters right now, and I’m sure the true Oscar bait that releases in the next couple of weeks will be much better than this. If you’re still interested, In the Heart of the Sea opens December 11th.