Movies: Ron Howard’s whale tale is a mere minnow

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, December 10, 2015 8:06am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Chris Hemsworth’s performance as Thor looks like a triumph of realism next to his turn as a Nantucket whaler in “In the Heart of the Sea.” I know it must be difficult for an Australian actor to master a New England accent, but Hemsworth sounds like he’s choking on Boston baked beans for the duration of the film.

Of course, who knows what a Nantucket whaler sounded like in 1820? But the accent is the least of Hemsworth’s problems in “Heart,” an adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction bestseller about an incredible sea disaster.

In 1821, in the South Pacific, the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by a huge whale. The surviving sailors endured ghastly hardships in the following weeks, including starvation.

Two of the survivors later wrote accounts of the nightmare: first mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth) — who frequently clashed with captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) — and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland).

The film is framed around the idea that Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visits the older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) and cajoles him to tell the Essex story. Melville will then use the bones of the tale to create a little novel by the name of “Moby-Dick,” the epic of a white whale with a bad attitude.

Director Ron Howard goes for the spectacle in the film, and there are some amazing incidents along the way. But even at 121 minutes, the film lacks a certain sweep. (I get the feeling there’s a longer cut somewhere — the movie feels rushed.)

Hemsworth struggles to make an impression; despite his manly appearance, this actor is at his best with comedy. And there ain’t much of that here. As his wife, Charlotte Riley is stuck with the “I’ll be waitin’ for ye” role back home, while Cillian Murphy suffers nobly as Chase’s seafaring pal.

The digitally created world is an issue, too. I’m not being contrarian when I say the whale-hunting scenes in John Huston’s 1956 film of “Moby Dick” are more astonishing than the similar scenes here, despite the digital toolbox available to Ron Howard.

There are storms at sea and rapid-fire action, which makes the 3D (available in some theaters) an eye-straining distraction. Perhaps most disappointing is that Howard doesn’t display much wonder at the sea, or the lumpy-looking whales that stand in for Melville’s mythic Moby Dick.

In one eerie moment, Chase and Nickerson are spattered with bloody whale breath, and pause for a shocked moment, as thought wondering what they’re doing harpooning this giant creature. That’s as close as this film comes to catching an authentic sense of mystery.

“In the Heart of the Sea” (2 stars)

Ron Howard directs this adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction bestseller about the doomed 1820 voyage of the whaleship Essex. Curiously, the film lacks an epic quality despite the fascinating true yarn, and Chris Hemsworth struggles to make an impression as the manly first mate. A heavy reliance on digital effects also helps sink this survival tale.

Rating: PG-13, for violence

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Photo by Gina Shields of GM Photography
Whidbey Island to salute the fallen for Memorial Day

All are invited to honor those who have fallen at three events on Whidbey Island.

Collection of  colorful flowers and ornamental plants in pots against the wooden wall on a corner of town street,Japan
Thrillers, fillers and spillers: Show your style with striking containers

Get into the spirit of summer by breathing new life into your old pots with fresh arrangments of foliage and flowers.

Sarah McLachlan performs during WE Day in Toronto on Thursday September 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Scottish band Nazareth will rock Everett and Sarah McLachlan will open Chateau Ste. Michelle’s summer concert series.

Tony Cladusbid, co-owner of the Beaver Tales Coffee franchise, watches over the canoe racing at the Penn Cove Water Festival on Saturday. (Photo by Sam Fletcher)
More than coffee: Swinomish Native shares family history and wisdom

Tony Cladusbid is the co-owner of Beaver Tales Coffee in Coupeville. He recently changed his name to honor his heritage.

2024 Toyota Venza Limited crossover (Photo provided by Toyota)
2024 Toyota Venza Limited crossover

The car is a safe choice that’s still eco-friendly to help ease a guilty conscious.

Pet detective Jim Branson stops to poke through some fur that Raphael the dog found while searching on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Everett, Washington. Branson determined the fur in question was likely from a rabbit, and not a missing cat.(Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lost a pet? Pet detective James Branson and his dogs may be able to help

James Branson, founder of Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue, helps people in the Seattle area find their missing pets for $350.

Cast-iron sign offers 3 simple steps for safety in case a train’s a comin’

Advising people to stop, look and listen, this old sign is more instructive than newer X-shaped railroad crossing signs.

2024 BMW i5
2024 BMW i5

BMW’s beloved 5 Series has been around for over 50 years. Now… Continue reading

The Solterra is Subaru’s first all-electric compact SUV. (Photo provided by Subaru)
2024 Subaru Solterra is updated with no increase in pricing

Improved charging ability, added EyeSight features and a new steering wheel are among the upgrades.

Whidbey Renaissance Faire volunteers pose in their costumes. (Photo by Bree Eaton)
Faire thee well: Renaissance is coming to Whidbey Island

The volunteer-run fair May 25 and 26 will feature dancers, a juggler, ‘Fakespeare,’ various live music shows and lots of food.

From a 17th-century warship to ABBA, Stockholm’s delights span the ages

The city — known for Nobel prizes, “Pippy Longstocking” and a very tall city hall — sits on 14 islands connected by 54 bridges.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.