Having been pushed from an initial March release to December, Ron Howard's latest picture, In the Heart of the Sea, aims to score big come Awards season. With the film now here though, can it sail to triumph or has it crashed in the water? Hit the jump to read my review.

There are some films which belong to the stars - take a Jennifer Lawrence film, for example - and then there are ones that belong to the director - any Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg film. Ron Howard fits into the latter category; he is the star of his films. From Apollo 13 to Frost/Nixon to Rush, Howard has made some real gems over his career. When his name is attached to any project, there's excitement as we look forward to seeing what treat he delivers us next. In the Heart of the Sea is no exception and there has always been a lot of anticipation surrounding this film, especially considering the premise and the cast and the promising trailers we've all seen. So, it's with regret, that I unfortunately can't say the film is what you'd expect. Instead, this is a rare mistep for the director and a huge waste of potential.

The film revolves around the true story that inspired Herman Melville's iconic classic 'Moby Dick'. However, the novel only covers half of the story and this film aims to cover the rest, telling the real tale of the crew of the Essex, a New England whaling ship, that was the target of an attack from an incredibly huge and powerful whale, in the winter of 1820. Going out on an expedition to gather whale oil, they are left stranded to face the elements when they are hunted upon by this vengeful whale. Forced to brave storms, starvation and panic, we follow their struggle during this harrowing experience as they are lost at sea, miles from home, with little food and only each other to get them by.
We open to Ben Whishaw's Herman Melville narrating, giving us some exposition and information about whale oil and just why it was so important at that time - used for lighting - before we get a shot of the mammoth-sized whale, that wreaks havoc on the Essex, swimming past. You get an idea of the sheer scale and power of the creature. However, the CG just does not look very good here and the whale looks quite obviously fake - a quality that is maintained throughout the whole picture. Considering the film was pushed half a year, you'd think that the visuals could have been improved but the CG doesn't hold up. It's not necessarily bad but it isn't exactly great either and whilst it doesn't hinder the proceedings too much, the sequences involving the whales don't look and feel quite as real and authentic and immersive as they could be. Although, the contradiction is that, aside from the CG, this is a great looking film. The shots of the Essex on the vast, open blue sea are stunning and the sandy beaches where the crew get stranded look gorgeous.

But, despite saying that, it's the scenes involving these whales that are the most entertaining to watch. Watching the monstrous whale tear through the Essex or the crew going after the smaller whales for their oil is when the film is at its most engaging; the sequences are epic and fun and entertaining. However, these moments don't come often. Instead, we get lots of exposition and character interaction but it's all dull and bland and painfully boring. The main reason for this is that we simply do not care for these characters enough to get invested into their stories. One of the subplots running thoughout the picture is this conflict between the Captain and his First Mate Owen Chase, who should've been captain, but we don't care for the conflict because we don't care for the characters. They're all very stoic and one-dimensional and this is problematic because the emotional core of the film doesn't quite hit as hard as it should and there doesn't feel like there are any stakes involved when the crew is stranded, merely because we have such little connection to them.
That's not to say that the acting isn't good. Everyone is fine in their respective roles and massive credit is given to the physical transformation these actors went through, to lose weight and look as though they'd been stranded for 90 days, because it certainly looks as though they have. However, it's just a shame that the talented ensemble were given such poor characters to work with. Chris Hemsworth is fine as Owen Chase, injecting as much charisma and energy into the character as possible given how little we empathise for him; Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw also make nice appearances too but there's no Oscar-calibre performances here - as we were fooled to believe there would be - and everyone is merely fine. You don't see these characters on-screen, but really just these actors acting as them. Howard's direction is, as always, great though. It's clear that his fingerprints have been all over this, with his usual style and finesse. However, it's not enough to save this film just because of how lacklustre this project is. With an average runtime of around 2 hours, this film drags a lot. I found myself constantly checking my watch; the film is tedious and sitting through it is draining.

Overall, In the Heart of the Sea is dull and tedious with the occasional spark of energy and enertainment, albeit if not often. On paper, the premise sounds compelling and, in the hands of someone as masterful behind the camera as Howard, has the potential to make for a great movie-going experience but this is not it. The release date shift from to December was unnecessary because this isn't the kind of film that is deserved of much Award recognition. This is a mawkish piece of cinema and an over-bloated, frustrating film to watch. It's the kind of film you stumble upon on Film4 on a late Thursday night, not the kind you go to experience in the cinema. It's a grueling watch that is alright at times, if never quite good, but at least never awful.

VERDICT:
Ron Howard sinks to the bottom of the sea with In the Heart of the Sea, a dull, bland and tedious misstep for the director.



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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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