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Movie Review

Plenty of Sea, Not Much Heart


Like Trumbo a couple of weeks ago, Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea suffers considerable from an attempt to cram too much into a standard two-hour movie.

About the first third of it has Ben Wishaw as author Herman Melville researching a whaling-ship disaster in preparation for writing Moby-Dick, a kind of prologue much like that of a horror story, with Brendan Gleeson as the sole surviving witness who hasn't talked about the episode, even to his wife, for thirty years. The prologue continues into a lengthy section on the lives of whale hunters in the 1820s, and we are told that this is the story primarily of two men, supposedly ship captain Benjamin Walker and first mate Chris Hemsworth, which does not seem to be the case.

Then we have a really sensational encounter with the whale, which the previews for In the Heart of the Sea imply is just about the whole story and is certainly the best thing in it, though it is made up almost entirely of quick cuts edited into a bewildering montage of violence that never turns into coherent sequences, full of shouted orders that nobody is shown to follow, falling ropes and spars, and interestingly, fire.

Down goes the ship and we are left to drift around the open sea in lifeboats while the few surviving sailors gradually die off from lack of food and water, 90 days adrift through storms and truly desperate starvation, and eventually the movie ends with debates of the question of whether the story should be told because it might hurt what is interestingly called the oil industry--whale oil, of course, but a reminder of our own contemporary problems.

In the Heart of the Sea is very well done and convincing, but it lacks concentration on a central theme and never got me emotionally involved.