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In the Heart of the Sea
Ron Howard’s clunky telling of how Herman Melville researched Moby Dick is an ambitious slog.
Yes, that’s right. This is not just another Moby Dick movie: it’s a movie about how the classic book about the 1820 maritime disaster was written. No that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, the set scenes, mostly between Ben Whishaw’s Melville and Brendan Gleeson’s surviving sailor are, thanks mostly to these two fine actors, quite compelling. It’s when Gleeson’s on camera narrative dissolves into the Essex whaling ship scenes we find ourselves in choppy waters.
We know seasoned filmmakers know how to special effect toss a ship on stormy high seas, and, at least initially, we’re impressed that they also can create the legendary mammoth whale. But Howard, who did such a fine evocative job conveying almost silent emotion over the roar of engines in Rush (a movie you should see if you haven’t), loses his footing here. We’re told Chris Hemsworth’s Owen Chase loves the underused Cillian Murphy’s veteran sailor and can’t stand Captain Benjamin Walker, but that’s about it. Well, we do get to watch Hemsworth hoist some masts with his shirt off, which may provide a moment of fun for us, even if it is a shade degrading for the star, who has proven he is a far more effective actor than he looks. We are left to try and feel concern for a bunch of people who’re out stabbing for a whale oil hungry homeland. Maybe because their stories are pretty much whittled down to plot points, we find ourselves siding with the hunted animals, the biggest and baddest of whom gets pretty pissed about it.