Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard reteams with his Rush star, Chris “Thor” Hemsworth, for Not Moby-Dick, a film adaptation of the book about the event that inspired Herman Melville’s classic American epic (those are Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words, not mine).
Sailing out of the famed whaling port of Nantucket, the Essex, captained by George Pollard (Benjamin Walker, best known as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), met tragedy when a great white whale destroyed her, drowning most of the crew. The rest—including First Mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth, pretty and powerful as always) and young Thomas Nickerson (The Impossible’s Tom Holland in flashbacks, Brendan Gleeson in the frame), who grows up to recount the tale to Melville (Ben Whishaw)—barely survive in tiny whaling boats.
The film succeeds as a sort of period retelling of the last act of Jaws, but with a whale rather than a shark (isn’t that just Orca?). For a typically surehanded director, Howard makes some surprising stylish miscalculations. What is occurring during the most chaotic scenes can be downright unintelligible—not a typical Howard trait, though the underwater whale FX are tremendous.
The script, by Charles Leavitt (K-PAX—anyone remember that one?—and Blood Diamond), is filled with hoary old chestnuts (captain and first mate are at odds from the get go), which should not surprise in an old-fashioned seafaring epic like this one. In the Heart of the Sea is serviceable cinematic entertainment—impressive on a large screen—that will not top any of these stars’ filmographies and begs the question, why isn’t this Moby-Dick?