With a well lined up cast, an epic story and Ron Howard directing, it is very reasonable to expect big things from this film; the story behind the story of Moby Dick, a legendary piece of literature which still manages to be very much present today. The tale of a whaling ship which is destroyed by a creature the likes of which have never been seen before, leaving it’s survivors adrift at sea with no relief in sight. Headed by Chris Hemsworth, this is a tough group of men put to the ultimate test of strength and survival.
I hate to say it, as it is a recurrent theme in watching films for me but the accent work going on in this film is altogether rather poor; the boundaries between American and English become very blurry, especially for those familiar with the other works of Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw. Apart from accents, the cast generally do a good job, they’re all convincing with their portrayals with honorable mention of Murphy; the problem is that none of it is particularly memorable. Given the dire circumstances and the challenges these characters are put through you would expect to find a performance that hits right to the bone of the audience, but there isn’t one, there are touching and impressive feats but they are all fairly forgettable.
The story itself does work well on the big screen, but it’s been advertised and taken down the route of being too focused on the whale, making it appear as some mythical creature bound to destroy them, when the heart of the story is actually the men themselves and what they endure. The primary problem with that is that though it is implied that the whale should be a beast that puts fear in the heart of men, it’s really not used in that way and the attempt to create sympathy for the sheer terror these men feel towards it, is slightly lacklustre. It’s always a shame to see such a gigantic production with so much time and energy and money gone into making something that should be of an epic proportion that falls beneath its potential. Being stranded at sea is a concept that has been used over and over, occasionally to create something new and interesting, and though the story in this case is interesting and played well by the cast, it feels as if it hasn’t been given its real due; almost cut and pasted together giving a disjointed view of how long these men actually suffer, merely being outlined with days at the bottom of the screen.
I do however agree with the use of Herman Melville learning the story of the ship’s terrible tale as a way of giving a past and present perspective is useful, and Gleeson gives a good performance but the film just doesn’t come across as impressive as it should. A film that is by nature epic, should have that affect on the audience, but it just comes in below that. It’s a good watch, but feels like a one time thing.