Chris Hemsworth soaked to the bone, saving the day is most people’s idea of heaven, but like our hero the plot of this movie gets lost at sea.
The premise is pretty simple. Whales, check, whale hunters, check. But then this humungous beast of a white whale shows up and screws up the whole thing. The movie then takes on more of a Castaway vibe and you’ll left watching the crew decide who to chow down on next as they descend into madness.
In The Heart of the Sea is a recounting of a New England whaling ship ‘The Essex’ that was sunk in 1820 by a giant whale. This devastating experience led to the novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.
The last remaining crew member of the ill-fated whaling ship, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), recalls the story of its demise to an aspiring writer Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw). This provides the narrative for the movie and in a series of flashbacks we are shown how it all began…
In the winter of 1820 a New England whaling ship named The Essex was attacked by something that no one could believe: a whale of monumental size with almost human-like emotions, hell-bent of revenge for its fallen brothers. In The Heart of the Sea reveals the harrowing aftermath of the whale’s attack and how the ship’s crew did the unthinkable to stay alive.
Seasoned sailor Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was promised command of a ship by the owners but he was denied captaincy of the Essex due to his lack of blue blood that the whaling families possess. Instead, he has to serve under the well-connected but very disagreeable George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), a man with next to no sailing experience and no idea how to command a ship. This decision contributed to their demise and Chase won’t let Pollard forget it.
As the humungous whale hunts them down, the captain and first mate drift even further apart. But they are unified in collecting as much whale oil as possible in as short a time as possible so they’re not willing to give up just yet.
Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the crew begin to question their beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of whaling. Meanwhile their captain searches for land among open sea and his first mate seeks vengeance on the great white whale. But the alabaster whale is 100 foot long and possesses more strength than they could even imagine and they are just a handful of malnourished men. The odds were never in their favour and it’s not about to change now.
Chris Hemsworth plays the likeable, good-looking male lead but he is no sea-dog. He’s more Captain Pugwash than weathered seafarer. Even in the most extreme moments, stranded on a desert island or burning to a crisp on an open raft, he looks more like a beach bum student on a gap year than a sailor close to despair.
You don’t really get the feeling that the voyage is damned which is one of the main elements of the legendary tale. the problem is that the movie is so full of drama that it fails to deliver any raw emotion. For example Chase wants to rush home to his heavily-pregnant wife and Pollard wants to prove his worth as captain. But director Ron Howard decided to gloss over those facts.
Also some of the green screen shots are a little too obvious and it takes you out of the moment. I was very aware that I was seeing a painted ship upon a painted ocean with Hemsworth being drenched by a Super Soaker. But on the most part the 3D effects were fantastic.
The Heart of the Sea is a spectacular movie in terms of imagery and visual effects, but for a story all about obsession and madness it ends up being far too placid to make any real impact. It proves the narrative but avoids emotion and in doing so lacks a heart.
By Ruth Walker