Now on DVD: In the Heart of the Sea

HoS screen grab

In the Heart of the Sea | Director Ron Howard | Score: 3.5

The worst thing to ever happen to Ron Howard as a director was winning an Oscar for the dunderheaded A Beautiful Mind. Up until that point, he had been a marginal director with a particular gift light comedy, which lent itself reasonably well to well-meaning films (see Nightshift, Splash, or Cocoon). After his tremendous academy success with the mediocre Mind, however, he began to take himself much more seriously as a director of Important Films, and has been often lured into attempting projects whose reach far exceeds his craft.

Case in point, this soppy man-vs-whale affair, which stars Chris Hemsworth as the requisite leader of men, and Benjamin Walker as his detached, blue-blooded captain, who leads their whaling vessel through bad storms, poor planning, and most disastrously, against the mighty protector of an army of sperm whales 2000 miles off the coast of anything. Roughly based on the plight of the Essex, a Nantucket-based whaler, upon whose tale the gist of the idea of Moby Dick hatched in Herman Melville’s head, the film uses the writer’s quest for information as its raison d’etre. Melville appears here, naturally, played with winsome insecurity by Ben Whishaw, and his interview with the lone still-surviving member of the Essex crew (Brendan Gleeson), provides the film with its clunky skeleton.

Hemsworth, never much more than a handsome face hovering over god-like pecs, employs an absolutely unimaginably bad New England accent – he sounds much like his Thor character, except for occasional flurries of dropped r’s as in “trawl-ah” and “dis-cahds,” Walker isn’t terribly much better, and the film largely wastes the rest of its cast, including Cillian Murphy, with its bludgeoning narrative: Men hunt whale, whale retaliates, men rethink the whole whaling thing over the course of their hellish three months lost at sea. Closer to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner than anything Melville actually wrote, the film is little more than a rush of underwater camera shots and hunky actors letting their beards grow out. Honestly, if this ploog of a film had been Melville’s inspiration, he would have had to self-publish the thing.

Image above is a screen grab from the trailer.

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piersPiers Marchant is a film critic and writer based in Philly.

Find more confounding amusements and diversions at his blog, Sweet Smell of Success, or read his further 142-character rants and ravings at @kafkaesque83.

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