In the Heart of the Sea Review: A clichéd plot, with drama that is far too pedestrian

Mihir Fadnavis

Dec 05, 2015 07:37:36 IST

Ron Howard has always been a polarising filmmaker. Most of his films are good to look at, but they always tend to push towards treacle territory. Even The Beautiful Mind, widely regarded as one of his best films has so much hot air (read: fiction) it’s insulting to those who have a high regard for the real life central character in that film. His previous film Rush, however, was a great return to form and it reminded you of the filmmaker who made Apollo 13. It was only a temporary rush of excitement, because Howard goes back to the depths of treacle in his new film In the Heart of the Sea.

The point of making a movie based on a story, which in turn is based on the story of Moby Dick remains a mystery, especially if the film in question is as insipid as this one. In the Heart of the Sea is exactly the kind of sentimental populist Hollywoodised claptrap that Howard is famous for and most of it grates more than entertains. After Life of Pi, which so beautifully established the metaphor for cannibalism on a stowaway raft, and the first act of Unbroken which captured a true story of being cast away at sea and then becoming a prisoner of war, In the Heart of the Sea seems like an unnecessary add on to an already consumed meal.

In the Heart of the Sea Review: A clichéd plot, with drama that is far too pedestrian

A scene from In the Heart of The Sea.

This time we have a wannabe writer Herman (Ben Whishaw) who discovers an ex-sailor Tom (Brendon Gleeson) scarred by a traumatic episode from his past in the ocean. Naturally the old geezer refuses to reveal what happened at first but then spills the beans as we’re taken on a flashback where the younger version of his own self (Tom Holland) is on a ship with Owen (Chris Hemsworth) and George (Benjamin Walker). There are some really uninteresting plot devices, like tension and ego issues between Owen and George and unfortunately that narrative stays through the rest of the film until Owen is heroically revealed to be the one to save everyone from the giant whale that attacks their ship.

The drama in the film is far too pedestrian to make any impact, so to compensate most of the effort is put into the visual effects. Some of the scenes (thanks to cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) are visually appealing but when there’s so much CGI at play you’re bound to be taken out of the film because you know it’s fake. In 2015 a storm rendered through special effects is no longer a special aspect of a film because by now that’s a very routine feature. Howard’s direction and imagery worked in Rush because one seldom sees films on Formula 1, but a ship about to be drowned at sea is pretty much a ‘been there done that’ scenario by now. And this film doesn’t bring anything new to the table visually to make that plot point interesting.

The most frustrating part of the film, however, is the ‘social message’ hammered into your skulls. After brutally killing a whale in the beginning of the film everyone on the ship suddenly has some sort of a guilt trip, as if to remind audiences that killing whales is bad. Films like Blackfish or The Cove render the same message in brutally realistic and effective ways, but this being a Howard film does it with the least possible nuance and most possible emotional manipulation. The final act has a very tedious section where the men lose weight due to hunger and it does nothing emotionally. After 2001’s Cast Away this is no longer a fascinating plot point, but a dangerously clichéd one. All we can do now is wait for Howard’s third film on Dan Brown’s terrible books.

Updated Date: Dec 05, 2015 07:37:36 IST