Movie Review: In the Heart of the Sea

At this point, do any movies not Force Awaken matter? As I write this, I am seven days from my screening. I bought the ticket the second pre-sales became available and every day since has been an agonizing wait, like I am waiting for the release of MGSV or Fallout 4 all over again. All the movies I have seen this month (those reviews incoming) mean nothing to me and every dollar I have spent is one that could have been used seeing Force Awakens multiple times… you know, if it is good. Studios should have understood this fact when they planned their films’ release dates. Ron Howard sure did not know when he delayed In the Heart of the Sea. Is it enough to make me think twice about Star Wars (no) or should it have been pulled from theaters entirely?

On his latest voyage as First Mate on a whaling ship, Chase, played by Chris Hemsworth, develops a contentious relationship with the Captain, who he believes stole his most desired position on the grounds of status. The two men put aside their rivalry, however, when they come upon an infamous white whale that will come to inspire Moby Dick.

It has been a while since I have seen a movie about sailing ships. The last one I recall was the third Pirates of the Caribbean, which could have been better had the production taken its time and actually put some effort into it. Heart of the Sea is less an action movie and more of a period drama about one man’s struggle to succeed in life for personal gratification. It is also a story of survival that involves the entire crew of the ship after disaster strikes.

The film has a very physical feel to it. The characters, being veteran sailors, bare old scars from events that are never mentioned, sun baked skin from years out at sea, and scraggly beards from lack of maintenance. Their conditions come to worsen later in the story. Though there is a lot of CG, there is still a consistent effort to show the realism and grime of being on a ship. From start to finish it looks like everything is coated in a thin film of dirt. At sea, the movie takes on a feeling of dryness, like you are right there under the sun for all hours of the day. After the first whale kill, the sailors get into the grind of harvesting what they need from the beast in gory detail, blood and bits of flesh building up on the deck.

These feelings are mostly achieved in the cinematography. Ron Howard has a real eye for shot composition and here he gets as personal as possible. Special care is taken to highlight the characters features and physical conditions. There are also many angles from seemingly random places that focus on the sets like the deck of the ship and the shaft of a spear. The camera is so close, water often splashes onto the lens.

When it comes to the whole, however, Heart of the Sea does not do much of anything else. There is some subtle commentary on the oil industry and the idea of nature as a living thing, but nothing overtly compelling. Nor are the performances especially exceptional, even after the actors emaciated themselves for their roles. They did nail the Boston accent without sounding like idiots, though. By and large, the movie is a simple story about survival that works as just that. There could have been a lot more as welcome additions to an already passable narrative. It is just a matter of how you see it and what you are looking for.

In the Heart of the Sea is nothing special and it will not do anything for you like the story it inspired. If you want an ordinary survival story that is also a well-shot period drama, I recommend buying a ticket. Then again, as I alluded to in the introduction, save your money for Force Awakens.

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