Thor She Blows!
Just like the main protagonist in the book Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville, Captain Ahab was an obsessive individual to say the least. And as the book shows such blind destructive mania is the downfall of many and all around them. There must be an echo of this trait in some movie directors, as they head towards the final reels of their carriers, they have for some inexplicable reason (to me) a tendency to want to deal with the ‘grander’ stories, even though some of the ‘biggest’ tales may be found in the simplest of moments (The Straight Story by David Lynch comes to mind). Such spectacle is a distraction, a red herring, or indeed the giant white Sperm Whale in the room.
Leap forward to In The Heart Of The Sea (2015) by the extremely talented director (I recently rewatched his excellent Cinderella Man in preparation for the forthcoming Creed) Ron Howard as he takes that notable moment from his own Happy Days career of the Fonz ‘jumping the shark’ and has updated it to ’jumping the incredibly gigantic white Sperm Whale in 3D’, or to be strictly honest, it’s the whale doing the jumping.
The movie is the story behind the story. The actual tale that inspired writer Herman Melville to write the book ’Moby Dick’ which brought him huge recognition and the success he aspired to after not much success as a writer, thus almost his own obsession.
The always delightful Ben Whishaw plays meek Melville investigating the story behind the exploits and adventures of the life scared and ocean bruised surviving seaman Tom Nickerson (Brendan Glesson) being drunkenly recounted under emotive duress and only out of financial necessity. If it had just been Glesson on screen the entire movie telling the story, I would have been delighted, but of course it isn’t.
Chris Hemsworth (Owen Chase) is not a lead actor in my books. He’s not a bad actor by any means, but there’s a serious issue at heart if the very first scene you have him in your movie he’s carrying a hammer (albeit a tiny household one) and he’s speaking EXACTLY like Thor addressing Odin, though in this case it’s to his pregnant wife as he prepares to leave her for at least a year on a hunt for whale oil.
Chase has an outstanding success rate for bringing home barrels of the highly sought fuel to light the rooms of the elite, the later day oil barons. He was rightly promised his own ship to captain but due to nepotism and the tried, tested and honoured tradition of giving talentless utter incompetents positions of power over the lives of the many, step forward George Osbourne. Well it’s not actually the real economics fool, but Benjamin Walker as the privileged by birth George Pollard (an established Nantucket seafaring name), who much to my annoyance is the absolute split of Osbourne. At the expense of proven talent and ability, Pollard (instead of Chase) captains the ship (Essex) to economic and actual doom, just like Osbourne.
Pollard is contemptuous beyond believe (definitely channeling the MP) expressing content for all and sundry as soon as they hoist anchor. But at least Chase has (mostly) left his Thor voice moored at the harbour. And we now have the incredibly talented Cillian Murphy stepping forward as the sea battered second mate Matthew Joy, but absolutely should have been given the role of Chase as every scene he sails into is a joy to behold.
Tempers flare, mountainous waves rage and the compass points to true stubbornness as the captain charts a course to oblivion via ignorance and the barnacles of entitlement to murder whales.
The unfortunate thing thing about Sperm Whales is that their diet doesn’t consist of humans, as I’d have preferred EVERY single person involved in this trade to be tossed into the smiling cavernous mouth of the graceful intelligent sea giants. But at least we get one who isn’t so peaceful and isn’t okay with it’s entire family being hunted and murdered. Greed, arrogance, desperation and folly has led the seamen to this moment and in much like the present day wholly destructive contemptuous oil and carbon industries, nature will fight back, and will win.
On the surface the scale of the movie is epic, in reality there’s little if any depth. The screen I saw the movie on was absolutely enormous, but to it’s total detriment. The film was in 2D (it’s also available in 3D) and it just looked soft to out of focus, with some really dreadful CGI not helping matters at all. I saw the trailer earlier today on tv and it all looked a million times better than the screening I saw.
But it’s not a terrible movie by any means, just devoid of any grit despite the levels of darkness that the crew go too. And there’s a sense that the spectacle will win over the lack of substance, which will never be the case. I’ve no doubt the movie will make a big splash at the box office, but that doesn’t make it any better as a movie experience. This is unfortunate given the stellar abilities of Gleeson, Murphy and Whishaw and to an extent the great white whale itself.
There are some fine sporadic fruitful desert island moments to be enjoyed, and there’s a nice old classic movie tone about the whole piece, but that doesn’t make for a better movie. Much like the crew we set sail with hope in our hearts, especially with Captain Ron Howard at the helm, but like the Essex itself, it wasn’t to be, it’s painting a seascape by numbers.
In The Heart Of The Sea is out on the 26th of December.
Click here to read Steve’s Bridge of Spies film review >