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Thursday, 3 December 2015

In The Heart Of The Sea

(M) ★★★

Director: Ron Howard.

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson.

Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

HERMAN Melville’s Moby-Dick is a remarkable novel but perhaps even more remarkable is one of the true stories that inspired it.

Melville’s 1851 classic is a composite of many tales and ideas, including the author’s own time aboard a whaling vessel, but deep within its lyrical prose are bits and pieces from accounts of the Essex – a whaling ship that met a grim fate at the hands of a monstrous white whale.

It’s this dark saga that forms Howard’s 24th film, and while In The Heart Of The Sea has its moments, this gripping story is marred by a tendency to pull you out of the heart of the moment.

Hemsworth stars as Oliver Chase, a skillful whaler keen to be promoted from first mate to captain, and who makes little effort to hide his displeasure at having to serve under a cocky new captain George Pollard (Walker) aboard the whaling ship Essex.

Unable to find many whales in the usual places, the Essex rounds Cape Horn, and during a stopover for supplies the crew hear of a section of the ocean teeming with sperm whales but protected by an enormous and aggressive white whale.

Undaunted, the crew head into the Pacific, in search of glory, only to find tragedy.

At its best, In The Heart Of The Sea is fantastic. Despite the conflicting feelings that come with watching people hunt and kill such majestic (computer-generated) creatures, the harpooning sequences are enthralling, and any time the monstrous Moby (the whale, not the musician) is on the screen, the movie goes up a notch.

As the Essex’s best laid plans turn to driftwood and the crew’s minds turn to survival, the film is riveting. It gets dark – really dark – and it’s compelling.

The strong cast, led by Hemsworth, Walker, Murphy and future Spider-man Holland, is uniformly excellent, handling the physicality (including some extreme weight loss) as well as the drama with equal aplomb. Watching Hemsworth go from Thor to thin is fascinating in itself, but he shines in several scenes. After seeing Rush and now this, one can only hope he makes more films with Howard.

But In The Heart Of The Sea suffers from some annoying defects. To ram home the point that this is the true story that partially inspired Moby-Dick, the movie is framed (and repeatedly interrupted) by author Herman Melville (Wishaw) extracting the Essex’s tale from the older version of Holland’s character (Gleeson).

It adds unnecessary melodrama and flab to what could have been a sleek survival story, but worst of all it continually rips us off the Essex and back on to dry land, despite every swaying camera and well staged wave doing its utmost to make you feel like you’re there on the boat as it happens.

In fact, the film over-stretches in its efforts to put you amid the action – there are too many strange GoPro-like camera angles and shots amid the otherwise beautiful cinematography, which only serve to break the movie’s flow and remind you that you are indeed simply watching a movie, not experiencing something special.

Whenever In The Heart Of The Sea sets foot on land, it struggles. The opening landlocked moments are stuffed with clichés and clunky character descriptions, while Wishaw and Gleeson’s scenes don’t work at all.

But when the movie sets sail, it’s a winner. In summary, the film has its sea legs, but can’t seem to find its land legs.

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