IN THE HEART OF THE SEA
In the winter of 1802, the New England whaling ship Essex, leaves Nantucket for another profitable voyage, with Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) as First Mate and Benjamin Walker (George Pollard) as the Captain - in a strained relationship. But it has hardly begun its harvest for the essential whale blubber that is a treasured fuel, when it is assaulted by a vast whale - with what seems like a human sense of vengeance. As the ship's surviving crew is pushed to its limits, they are forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, they question their deepest beliefs as their captain searches for direction and his first mate still seeks to bring the great whale down. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
Survival and dark secrets that fester in the soul are the potent themes of Ron Howard's epic tale about a gigantic white whale and the men that cross its path. The 1820 events are the inspiration for Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby Dick and screenwriter Charles Leavitt uses this inspiration for the structure of his adaptation of Nathaniel Philbric's book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. It's a film with scale - beyond the life and death issues are those of morality and conscience. The film plays out like an opera of the sea with Howard as conductor. It satisfies mostly on an intellectual level, although I would have liked to be emotionally swept overboard - metaphorically speaking.
The story plays out in flashback. Thomas Nickerson (a suitably tortured Brendan Gleeson) spills his dark secrets in a confessional to Melville's insecure writer (Ben Whishaw, excellent). The fact that the two men each carry a burden works well - there is much at stake for both of them. But they are not alone. The tale's two central characters - the Captain (Benjamin Walker) and his First Mate (Chris Hemsworth) both have a chip on their shoulders. They each have something the other lacks.
Chris Hemsworth stands tall as Owen Chase, the handsome First Mate, disappointed to be denied the promised captaincy of his first whale ship expedition. With capability as his calling card, Chase lacks lineage credentials, unlike Captain George Pollard, who has the advantage, as son of the Patron. They are like an unsuited married couple, Nickerson suggests as we observe their clash of styles and personalities when the two men sail from Massachusetts in search of whale oil.
We can almost feel the salt spray, the wind in the sails and the pitching of the bow as the ship heads into a squall. The sequence in which Chase harpoons a whale early in the piece is critical in that it gives us an idea of what is involved. We empathise with the plight of young 14-year old Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland) on his first voyage. The scene when he is sent down the gullet of the dead whale to recoup 'the treasure' is an eye opener. 'A man gets to know himself down there,' he is told.
The key scenes involving the mammoth white whale, that seals the men's fate, are superbly done and there are confronting scenes as the men are driven to the brink when all is lost. It's a battle between man and whale, man against man and man against nature. All the while Howard keeps all the elements together, delivering the tale with polish and style.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is a story of mythical proportions, given emotional scale by the unfathomable sense of vengeance within the heart of that great, dappled skinned whale, who fixes Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) with an unforgettable stare ... and thanks to the magic of sophisticated digital effects, we can share the stare. And what is behind that stare is what the movie about: vengeance. The seeking of it by the great whale, and the determined seeking of it by Chase. (Got the name right, too...)
Masterful filmmaker Ron Howard conducts his team in a symphonic, even operatic telling of a terrifying sea drama that is filled with so many aspects of human experience that we can't count them. And his SFX team is clearly a significant part of the overall achievement, equal to the terrific performances from each of the cast. They give us the visually authentic scenes at sea, including the shipboard life, and the breathtaking whale, a creature we can admire, respect, fear and loathe all at once.
Hemsworth as First Mate Chase and Benjamin Walker as the Captain George Pollard were not meant for each other under sail, the former a self made, natural whaler, the latter serving as Captain by virtue of his birth; his family, the Pollards, are movers and shakers in this business. The clash of personalities and cultures provides tension on board, while the hunt provides the tension and thrills on the sea.
The story is told by the last survivor of the adventure, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson in top form) who was a teenager on board the Essex at the time (memorably played by Tom Holland). Ben Whishaw is effective as the writer Herman Nelville who has managed to persuade Nickerson - with crucial help from Mrs Nickerson (Michelle Fairley) - to finally tell the story. The whole story ... some of which he has never been able to share with anyone.
The technical and creative teams have excelled in making the film a visceral experience, engaging and satisfying as drama of the most powerful kind: a true story.
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IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (M)
CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Riley
PRODUCER: Brian Grazer, Marshall Herskovitz, Joe Roth, Will ward, Paula Weinstein, Edward Zwick
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
SCRIPT: Charles Leavitt (book by Nathaniel Philbrick)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony Dod Mantle
EDITOR: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
MUSIC: Roque Banos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Tidlesley
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 3, 2015