Inspired (loosely) by the true story of The Essex, a New England whaling ship sunk by a sperm
whale in 1820 (the event that inspired Herman Melville to write his monumental Moby Dick), Howard’s new film features a number of big British talents including Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Holland, in a
prodigious and big-budget epic survival drama.
Encompassing the ninety days and nights of hunger and despair that swept the crew of the Essex as they were lost at sea in the Pacific Ocean, Howard's latest epic In the Heart of Sea is a thrilling seafaring spectacle that will undoubtedly draw in the Christmas crowds. Just don't expect this 'true story' to be lacking in typical Hollywood sensationalism.
In the Heart of the Sea's follows an archaically male-centric cast and opens with Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) as he hunts down the last living survivor of the ‘Essex disaster (Brendan Gleeson).
Shot with a note of urgency that accurately captures the action and everyday dangers of tall ship work, Howard doesn't romanticise his subject or sugar coat the more unpleasant aspects of mutiny and command. Though unwilling at first, Gleeson begins to unravel the yarn and the film flashes back to his first time aboard a ship as a young boy, and the horrors both human and natural that befall the men on board.
The film taps into same sense of insurgence as we’ve seen before with Mutiny on the Bounty and Master and Commander, but as the internal dangers become subsumed by the threat of the murderous whale it becomes a different film entirely.
There is a lot to admire, from the grisliness that Howard chooses not to sugar-coat, the smell of rotting flesh inside the stomach of a whale. After being adrift at sea for seventy days the men become near impossible behold, so sun beaten and cracked. Howard doesn’t shy away from darker themes such as murder and cannibalism, though this at times seems a little off kilter for its young target audience.
Howard’s knack for misdirection is applied deftly here. The performances were bold, though Hemsworth’s accent repeated becomes so mumbled – in an effort, presumably, at that same kind of hyper-realism we saw in Les Miserables – but overshoots it slightly and is often incomprehensible. Cillian Murphy puts in a good nuanced performance but his talents feel somewhat wasted as the loyal ship mate.
Where the film lacks, it seems, is in engaging its audience sufficiently with its underlying message of remorse and sympathy. Certain nods make it clear that we are supposed to be uncomfortable with the notion of murdering the whale – we linger on the men’s blood spattered faces after they make their first plunge. We see, too, the men ordering their own fate by hunting further and further out to sea, and the violent whale becomes a symbol of their own greed: their avenging fury.
So despite its ostensible twist – namely telling Moby Dick from the perspective of the men rather than the whale – the film doesn't make its Mevillian tone of sympathy nearly clear enough: the whale is still a monster, vindictive and more violent than the men who kill them for oil. The women are depressingly two dimensional. A thrill packed blockbuster from a director who knows how to spin a good yarn, In The Heart of the Sea falls short, and needs to decide on its tone and what film it is really trying to be.
|What||In the Heart of the Sea film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
25 Dec 15 – 25 Jan 16, times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go the film's IMDB page|