IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (USA|Australia|Spain|UK|Canada/12A/122mins)
Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Michelle Fairley.
Novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) travels to Nantucket, Massachusetts to interview Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last survivor of the whaling ship The Essex which, to all intents and purposes, ran aground many years earlier. Melville suspects that there was more to the story than the inquiry told and, over the course of a long night and several glasses of whiskey, Nickerson finally recounts the tale he has never told anyone, the tale that would go on to inspire the classic novel ‘Moby Dick’.
THE VERDICT: There have been many cinematic tellings of Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, but Ron Howard’s latest film turns its attention to the true story that inspired the novel; the one that was only verified as true from his diary of the events, in 1980.
Brendan Gleeson plays Tom Nickerson the older, and the pain of the story he tells through the course of the film is etched across his face. Ben Whishaw brings tact and tenacity to the role of Melville, Chris Hemsworth re-teams with Rush director Ron Howard to play a character who is determined and consumed with the trappings of power and wealth. That said, Benjamin Walker as captain of The Essex, George Pollard, makes his character arrogant and obsessive, without the charm of Hemsworth’s Owen Chase. The rest of the cast is made up of Cillian Murphy, Michelle Fairley, Paul Anderson and Tom Holland as the young Tom Nickerson.
Charles Leavitt’s screenplay, based ion Nathaniel Philbrick’s book ‘In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex’ is careful in its telling of this whaling tale. The audience already knows that whaling is barbaric and cruel, so the screenplay feels no need to labour this point, other than in the brutal and graphic scene involving a whale being butchered after it was killed. In fact, it could be argued that the whale that targets and destroys The Essex is the hero of the film. Elsewhere, the film is truly a story of greed taking down those that pursued wealth, and some pretty horrific choices that stay with the survivors for life.
Director Ron Howard makes In the Heart of the Sea a survival tale and a coming of age tale all at the same time. The action is exhilarating, fast paced and a lesson in creating tension on screen, but things lose their way a little once the ship is wrecked and the crew stranded. The pacing slows as the crew struggle to survive and, with so much time given to this element of the story, the film goes from action adventure flick to something more akin to ‘The Life of Pi’ or the middle of ‘Unbroken’.
In all, however, ‘In The Heart of the Sea’ is a thrilling adventure movie for the most part, with Nickerson the Elder and Melville anchoring the story emotionally and in terms of the story. There are times when the pacing struggles, and some of the characters are drawn a little too thin, but there is plenty to enjoy in ‘In The Heart of the Sea’, just not all of it is pleasant.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

In the Heart of the Sea
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5a thrilling adventure
  • filmbuff2011

    Director Ron Howard re-teams with his Rush star Chris Hemworth for In The Heart Of The Sea, another story of driven men driven to the edge of ambition and beyond. Like Rush, In The Heart Of The Sea is based on a true story. It’s also the story that inspired Herman Melville to write the great American epic of the sea, Moby Dick.

    Melville (Ben Whishaw) arrives in the New England fishing town of Nantucket to meet old seadog Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). The purpose is research into his new book, which will be mostly fiction but inspired by the tragedy of the Essex, a whaling vessel that meet with a watery fate due to an encounter with an aggressive but intelligent whale. Tom is at first reluctant, but slowly casts his mind back to 1820 and his younger self (Tom Holland). Young Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) has been assigned to the Essex. His more experienced First Mate Owen (Hemsworth) has the confidence of the men, including Matthew (Cillian Murphy), Caleb (Paul Anderson) and Benjamin (Joseph Mawle). Initially at loggerheads, George and Owen soon band together when they kill a whale and start collecting its oil (this is at a time when oil from the ground has yet to be discovered). As the Essex heads into the South Pacific, they encounter a large white-flecked sperm whale that won’t be caught. It attacks the ship, forcing the crew to fight for survival or face death in a watery grave…

    Initial concerns that In The Heart Of The Sea would just be Moby Dick from a different angle can safely be put to one side. It certainly has elements that went into the formation of the novel, such as the young man’s point-of-view, the whale, the ship and the conflict of personalities involved. That’s where the similarities end though. For this is a survival at sea story rather than a tale of obsessive revenge. It goes to much darker places than Melville’s novel – the kind that publishers would shy away from. But most of that darkness is told through suggestion, with the older Tom grimly relating how the crew survived as their supplies and health diminished.

    Scenes early on of the crew killing a whale are a little distasteful – whaling is not exactly popular these days. But Howard is merely presenting the contemporary, sometimes dangerous, job of these men, who went out to sea for a year or more. It’s later in the film that the tables are turned and we learn who is the dominant species. This whale commands respect and Howard is sure to underline that in a key scene with Owen and the whale.

    It’s a handsome production, making good use of Spanish locales and a credible blend of live action and CGI. The performances are all reasonably solid too, with Hemsworth a dashing lead and a gruff Gleeson conveying a lifetime of regret. The story doesn’t have all the emotional beats that it should have though. Some of the characters are a bit two-dimensional and this reviewer suspects that the book on which it’s based by Nathaniel Philbrick gives a more rounded view of these characters. It may be flawed, but In The Heart Of The Sea is still a rousing adventure story that is entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking. ***