‘In the Heart of the Sea’
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy
2 (out of 5) Globes
The whale-cannibal movie “In the Heart of the Sea” opens with young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) narrating about the book he’s working on. “Right now it’s called ‘Moby-Dick,’” he boasts. It’s that kind of wink-winky movie, but it’s also another, very right-now kind of movie: the one that peels back a famous story to find the real, not as exciting tale that inspired it. “I believe you’ll be disappointed,” crows Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), the aged survivor of a doomed 19th century vessel, to the author who will immortalize his tale in prose. “But every word is true.”
Thing is, he’s not wrong. “Sea” has whale attacks and sinking ships and men chowing down on men, but those are mere attention-nabbing distractions — especially compared to Melville’s despairing look at blind obsession and recklessness. (And at least “Moby-Dick” didn’t force actors like Gleeson to spout embarrassing dialogue.) Still, at least “Sea” isn’t one of those wan twists on immortal classics, a la “Pan” and “Victor Frankenstein.” And “Sea” does know to dwell on tough, dark things like existential despair and class warfare.
Despite serving as our wrap-around storyteller, Gleeson's Thomas isn’t the protagonist. That honor goes to a more manly man, namely Owen Chase, played by Chris Hemsworth, the manly-manliest actor in cinema today. He’s a mere first mate on the whaling ship the Essex, bristling that the job of captain went to one George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker), the spoiled son of a whale oil magnate. (Director Ron Howard presents nepotism furiously, safe in the knowledge he’s never cast his own daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, in his films.) The Essex has a massive quota of whale oil to fill, and when booty proves elusive, they head after a notorious mammal known for taking out ships. This doesn’t go swimmingly.