Granger on Movies: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’
It begins in 1850 with the metaphysical question: “How does one know the unknowable?” In an attempt to discover the answer, ambitious author Melville (Ben Whishaw) tracks down aging Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a haunted seaman who served as a teenage cabin boy (Tom Holland) aboard the doomed ship.
Nickerson relates a story revolving around experienced whaler Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), who served as first mate under Capt. George Holland (Benjamin Walker), an “entitled” Nantucket native who inherited command from his patrician family, boasting, “Blood will always win out.”
Setting forth, they’re determined to return home with a payload of precious whale oil. But weeks stretch into months before they locate a pod. From rugged Owen’s hurling the first harpoon, their slaughter of a sperm whale is minutely detailed, but it’s a long time before they encounter another.
Ever hopeful, they sail around Cape Horn and into the South Pacific. Stopping in Ecuador, they’re told about a massive, demonic whale, mottled whitish in color. When they spy this monster, it’s relentlessly determined to wreak revenge on the Essex, leaving her hapless crew stranded in three small boats, starving on the open sea, eventually resorting to cannibalism.
Working from Charles Leavitt’s underwritten script, director Ron Howard (“Rush,” “A Beautiful Mind”) struggles to achieve and maintain the audience’s emotional involvement in this nautical adventure, aided in no small measure by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and lots of splashy CGI.
What’s missing is a charismatic leading man. When John Huston filmed “Moby Dick” (1956), he harnessed Gregory Peck’s star power. But hunky Chris Hemsworth is just bland. At least, as Marvel’s “Thor,” he wielded that trusty hammer.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “In the Heart of the Sea” is a floundering 5, a waterlogged survival saga.