In The Heart Of The Sea
Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw
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Actor turned director Ron Howard has made a lot of films now and they have been very different sorts of films too (Rush, Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind). However, he always brings a sure hand and, like his contemporary, Spielberg, knows how to pace a long film without it seeming to drag.
This is an historical seafaring drama. In the early part of the 19th Century Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) is not yet an established writer. He fears that he will never be great but when he finds a tale of seafaring heroism he heads to the New England whaling community to do research. There he finds a morose old sailor called Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). As a mere cabin boy Thom was aboard the whaling ship, The Essex and, during the course of a long night, he reluctantly recalls all the terrible adventures that befell them hunting a giant sperm whale (said whale would of course become fictionalised/immortalised as Moby Dick).
We soon learn that the expedition was marred by the clash between its two protagonists. George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) is high born but he doesn’t really have the substance to be a Captain. The effective captain is the seasoned whaler Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) who feels he deserves promotion on merit. From the start the atmosphere is tense but in the course of the long voyage even greater trials await them.
Most of the film takes place on board so it is all heaving and swaying. All this is well done and, now with special effects, you can create not only perfectly realised storm sequences but eye-popping visuals such as a huge whale the size of three boats. The film is also in 3D which can be a mixed blessing. Fortunately, Ron Howard resists the temptation to have too many objects flying off the screen but there are a couple of harpooning sequences that will have you involuntarily ducking in your seat. It’s not a shaggy dog story incidentally. The almost mythic gargantuan whale exists and we get to see it in all its CGI glory. It is a PG-level film for teens and up. What the film lacks in terms of Melville’s thunderous exposition of human frailty and obsession it makes up for in rollicking entertainment.