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‘In The Heart of the Sea’ Lacks Heart

‘In The Heart of the Sea’ Lacks Heart

         On paper, this
must have seemed like a sure-fire idea: a dramatization of the real-life
encounter between a whaling ship and a ferocious (even vindictive) whale that
inspired Herman Melville to write Moby
Dick.
But despite a lavish production and a proven director, it doesn’t
work.

         Several
screenwriters toiled on the adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s National Book
Award-winner about the 1820 voyage of the whaleship Essex. Director Ron Howard
has as good an eye for casting as anyone, and his leading roles are well filled
by Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, and Brendan
Gleeson, with Ben Whishaw as Melville. Modern visual effects make it possible
to take us back in time to 19th century New England and show us, in
detail, the destructive force of a killer whale on a wooden sailing vessel. (Yet
curiously, Howard lingers on obvious matte paintings that establish the setting
of Nantucket at the beginning of the film, which only exposes their
artificiality.)

         When all is
said and done, it’s difficult to connect to the people onscreen and their
plight. Perhaps it’s because we know their fate before the movie begins—but
that can be said of many historic tales.

         The story
unfolds in a series of flashbacks as author Melville persuades the last
surviving member of the Essex crew—an aging and recalcitrant Gleeson—to tell
what he knows, after thirty years of silence. This involves an able seaman
(Hemsworth) being passed over for the job of captain in favor of an inexperienced
man (Walker) who’s the son of the ship’s owner. It doesn’t take long to realize
that Walker is in over his head when things don’t go as planned.

         Ultimately a
bleak tale of survival, In the Heart of
the Sea
seems to make all the right moves in spinning this yarn but never
touches the heart of the viewer. A good cast and a formidable white whale can’t
overcome that.

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