"In the Heart of the Sea" is exciting, epic-scale filmmaking from director Ron Howard with visual panache and often stunning scope, reminiscent of his work in "Apollo 13."
The downside is Howard is working from a fairly mediocre script. Charles Leavitt's screenplay is based on the non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick, telling the true story of the Essex, a whaling ship wrecked by a white whale in the early 1800s.
The story was part of the inspiration for Herman Melville's classic novel "Moby Dick," and the script wants that connection made so badly that the story is framed with scenes of Melville interviewing a survivor of the Essex, which often brings the action to a grinding halt. None of those scenes are needed.
Chis Hemsworth is the first mate of the Essex, and apparently the only crew member who packed hair styling product for the voyage. Because if you're gonna be lost at sea, that's no reason to not have fabulous hair. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Anyway, his relationship with the captain is about as strained as the New England accent the Australian actor is trying to pull off. Benjamin Walker is quite good as the captain from a privileged family who barely has his sea legs, and is overcompensating for it.
If you're wondering whether these guys will ever learn to get past their differences and develop respect for each other, welcome to your first movie. It's one of many cliches packing the script.
But there's an awful lot about this movie that works really well, namely, the whale itself. The visual effects are beautifully done, and it's gorgeously filmed, even when the movie itself turns ugly with crew members lost at sea and forced to commit abominations to survive, but in a very PG-13 kinda way.
We don't get many seafaring adventures without Johnny Depp strutting about in eyeliner anymore. I loved "Master and Commander" about 10 years ago, and while "In the Heart of the Sea" is not on that level, it's an often thrilling, enthralling survival story worth seeing on the big screen.