Some stories need to be told. Whether it is tearing you up inside not to let it out or whether you’re scared to tell anyone in fear of rejection, sometimes it is better to let the story out rather than let it destroy you or your life. That seems to be the basic idea behind the premise of In The Heart of the Sea. Well… at least one of the plots anyways… There is actually a lot to like about this movie as it has great cinematography, compelling characters and even a mysteriously well done nemesis of the Essex. However, this movie leaves a lot to be desired and it has to do with the fact that it doesn’t feel as though the directors and writers ultimately knew what type of movie it wanted to be, what messages it wanted to deliver and what characters it wanted to focus on.
In 1820, crewmen (Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy) aboard the New England vessel Essex face a harrowing battle for survival when a whale of mammoth size and strength attacks with force, crippling their ship and leaving them adrift in the ocean. Pushed to their limits and facing storms, starvation, panic and despair, the survivors must resort to the unthinkable to stay alive. Their incredible tale ultimately inspires author Herman Melville to write “Moby-Dick.”
The muddled nature that the story was told in is what really destroys this movie from truly being good. The beginning of the movie has Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) visiting Thomas Knickerson (Brendan Gleeson) because Melville wants to write the story of the Essex as he believes that the story has been “covered up” by the public. Knickerson is, at first, extremely reluctant to tell the story– he is clearly afraid of something, but at the urging of his wife he finally tells Melville the harrowing tale of the Essex and its crew. In that way, the movie feels a lot like The Titanic where we have an old lady telling onlookers a story she has never revealed to anyone. And it is interesting to see Melville and Knickerson battle their own demons throughout the movie– Melville is captivated by the story but frightened that he might not be able to write a story deserving of the legend while Knickerson is afraid to reveal what really happened aboard the Essex because he doesn’t believe that his wife would love him any more. That premise alone might be a great movie it would have been great to great to get a focus on these two men, but we, instead, get a movie within a movie as Knickerson tells us that the story of the Essex is really a story about the ship’s captain and its first mate.
Which, again, might have been a good movie in and of itself but even with this story we get far too much focus on other things rather than captain George Pollard, a man whose family basically invented whaling and desired to live up to his families name, and Owen Chase, a rags-to-richs-type who seeks to make a name for himself and become a whaling captain in his own right, we get a movie that is more about the lack of whales at sea or the men of the crew starving to death in the ocean and having to resort to some unsavory things to survive.
And seriously, the biggest issue in this movie is that it had a lot of great ideas and great stories that could have been told, but instead we get all of those stories told at once. Therefore we never really get a good amount of any story, just a meager amount of small stories that could have been good on individual levels. Had they focused on one thing over the others, be it the battle of will between the captain and the fist mate or the plight of the whales or man having to take his proper place in the world and needing to learn that we cannot bend nature to our will… hell I would have taken a story specifically told from either the whale’s perspective or Knickerson’s but we get none of that… or all of that… but not enough of them.
I will say, however, that I loved the whale in this movie both in how they chose to show its character as well as how it visually looked. The whale was the only one we see that is truly bruised and battered and there is no question that this white whale has “seen some shit” in his day. He also feels extremely menacing and douchey all at the same time– but in a sort of cool way. He was the defender of the whales and might even be the hero of the story when you think about how many whales were really killed back then just to get out hands on whale oil. The whale plays a central role in the film as both the antagonist to the humans and a sort of guiding sage for Owen Chase and Pollard allowing them to grow as men and come to terms with their own mortality. At the beginning of the film, they are both tormented men. One desperately wants to live up to his family name and the other desperately wants to make his family name worth something– by the end they are both men who would rather tell the truth as to what happened to the Essex regardless of how badly it will ruin their stations in life. All. Thanks. To. A. Freakin’. Whale. Boom!
Chris Hemsworth really should have chosen to rock an accent for this film either. Not that it is terrible, it is just inconsistent. He switches from Thor-voice to Boston accent back and forth the entire movie– often ignoring the Boston and going full Thor. It isn’t bad, it is just distracting and I would have preferred not to have noticed the differences.
I’m not saying the film was terrible and I am not saying that it wasn’t enjoyable. I actually enjoyed the movie a lot. It had great action, solid stories and pretty good acting. But it just needed to be more focused to be a great film rather than a decent one. I mean this movie was supposed to be the origins of the book Moby Dick, my expectations as well as what the trailers led me to believe was that we would get to see the whale destroy things almost the entire movie. In reality, the whale spends about 20 minutes on the screen for the entire film. And if we aren’t going to focus on the whale, you need to deliver a great story– not 15 mediocre stories.