In the Heart of the Sea – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Charles Leavitt (screenplay), Charles Leavitt (story)
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker
Based on ‘The Incredible True Story that inspired Moby-Dick’, In the Heart of the Sea follows the journey of whaling ship ‘The Essex’, which sailed out of Nantucket in 1819 during the height of the whaling industry, at a time when crews stayed at sea until they had filled their ship to the brim with barrels of oil. With the sea becoming increasingly barren, the crew decide to travel further and further out to sea despite warnings of danger, in the hope of finding the fabled offshore grounds; but tragedy strikes when the ship is sunk by a gigantic white sperm whale. Thousands of miles off the coast of South America, the surviving crew are cast adrift in small whaling boats, with impending starvation forcing them to make agonising decisions.
With the sinister threat of this unknown beast, you may expect In the Heart of the Sea to be a classic ‘man versus monster’ action film. In fact, the strength of director Ron Howard’s adaptation is due more to its attention to character, than it is to any special effects. Central to this is the power play between ambitious First-Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), and naive Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who got the job because of his father’s status in the Whaling business, both in their struggles with each other, and with their own ambitions. The danger of this, however, is that once there is less interaction between the characters, the pace seems to drop; as if there had not been enough depth invested in other parts of the film.
The human side of the film is further emphasised, and the stakes raised, by Howard’s decision to frame the tale through the recollections of former cabin boy Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). Though in reality, he wrote his own account of the tragedy, which later inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick; here it is drawn out of him by the writer (Ben Whishaw), over the course of one night, in order to get material for the book. Gleeson is brilliant as a man haunted by his experience; and the cast as a whole are very strong, though it is unclear why such a big budget film set in the United States should cast so few American actors.
Overall, In the Heart of the Sea is visually stunning; and though there are moments which seem to be skimmed over, or wrapped up a little too quickly, it has a real sense of danger, and is a brilliantly engaging adventure into the unknown.