Harpooned: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’

“Despite a well-known villain (an 85-foot sperm whale) and plenty of animosity between Captain George Pollard and his First Mate Owen Chase to work with, this ship adventure still lacks air in her main sails.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


As a big fan of The Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” reality television series, I enjoy the fireworks that fester between a ship’s captain and her crew. And just like you, after about fifteen minutes of crab rings being pulled from the icy cold waters of the Bering Sea, I yearn for the personality differences to collide and dangerous conditions to develop miles offshore. Knowing the story of Moby-Dick, I held similar expectations for this true story about an ill-fated whaling ship sailing in 1820.

Based upon the nonfiction maritime novel “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick in 2000, director Ron Howard navigates moviegoers through the (whale) oil business 30 years after the Essex’s historic disaster.

The Academy Award-winning director cleverly introduces us to “Moby-Dick” novelist Herman Melville (played by Ben Whishaw), who must elicit details from the youngest crew member who sailed aboard the Essex—a 14-year old greenhorn named Tom Nickerson. With dual performances by Tom Holland and Brandan Gleeson as the younger and older life versions of Nickerson, we gain an appreciation for the harrowing sea conditions and cannibalism confronting the 20-man crew.


Despite a well-known villain (an 85-foot sperm whale) and plenty of animosity between Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and his First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) to work with, this ship adventure still lacks air in her main sails. Hemsworth spends too much screen time belaboring the fact his captain lacks proper decision-making skill and how he got overlooked for the job.

As viewers must wait patiently for the whale equivalent of “Jaws” to wreak havoc upon the 88-foot Essex, topside chores are doled with total abandon. Decks are swabbed, sails repositioned and family names soiled. It’s only the unflappable and poignant memories described by Gleeson’s character in 1851 that provide foreshadowing of troubled waters ahead.

The film’s true star—a huge white whale–remains off-screen for far too long during this movie, waiting for a dysfunctional ship’s crew to approach the “offshore grounds” in the South Pacific at feeding time.

“In the Heart of the Sea” postponed its movie debut (originally slated for mid-March of this year) to make a splash in theaters and stir up Oscar talk this month. But a lackluster script never goes “all-in” on its high stakes drama at sea or truly showcases its mammoth star. The wandering film even runs aground attempting to harpoon “The Hunger Games” finale at the box office…a film that was released pre-Thanksgiving. Talk about getting skunked.

Grade: C+

“In the Heart of the Sea” is rated R for some language, including sexual references.  Its running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.

© 2015, Patrick. All rights reserved.

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"Patrick, you are my go-to guy when it comes to the box office".   - Judy O.

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