Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Charles Leavitt (screenplay), Charles Leavitt (story), Nathaniel Philbrick (book)
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson
This film is based on Philbrick’s novel, which chronicles the voyage of the whaling ship Essex, which was destroyed by a giant white whale in eighteen twenty. Herman Melville partially based his famous book Moby Dick off these very same events. In the Heart of the Sea combines these two elements together in a dramatic and action-packed adventure which while historically inaccurate, is still great fun to watch if you do not look for these faults.
In eighteen fifty, Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) has arrived to speak with old Tom Nickerson (a gruff Gleeson), the last surviving member of the Essex, agreeing to pay him a sum of money for his account of the ill-fated Essex’s journey and subsequent sinking. Tom is reluctant to recall the events but after persuasion from his wife he agrees to tell Melville everything. Melville is excited to hear the tale first-hand, and is confident that his notes will enable him to succeed the success of his first novel.
We then move back in time to just before the Essex sets sail. Owen Chase (Hemsworth) is to be offered the role of first mate. He is not happy about this, previously being promised a captaincy in the past. The captain will be George Pollard (Walker), who’s family own the shipping industry in Nantucket. Owen’s wife is pregnant and also unhappy due to the prospected length of time he will be away at sea, citing that Owen is too much like his father who never saw his own child.
The Essex sets off on her voyage and we see the crew at work. That evening Pollard does his best to try and get under Owen’s skin, thinking himself above Chase. Tensions between the two will quickly escalate as Chase, being the bigger man, leaves for the crews quarters in order to issue commands and positions. It is shortly after this that a storm is spotted approaching the Essex.
Now unlike in Moby Dick, which is really about a madman’s obsession with catching a particular whale, this title does show what life was like on a whaling ship and the brutality involved. I personally despise whaling and In the Heart of the Sea shows the ugly side of this business, especially over one hundred and fifty years ago. Pretty it certainly isn’t. But in the context of the film the scenes needed filming, though thankfully they are kept to a minimum for the squeamish.
Along the same theme, the film also questions the ethics of what man does and gets slightly into the philosophic side of things regarding God, men and how significant we really are, or are not. Much has been said about the directing and the use of the CGI but I personally never found any real fault with the effects, and thought the quick shot direction helped to make you feel part of the crew and ship.
Featuring some beautiful cinematography, visually this is a very impressive looking feature, the storm scene in particular is very well done. Script and acting are also likewise good as one would expect from this cast. Ultimately though this film was a massive flop at the box office, no doubt hindered by opening a week before The Force Awakens, which really would have killed any films chances of success, regardless of what it was. Whoever set the release date needs a long hard look at themselves.
Unless you are well versed with real facts and dates etc regarding the fate of the Essex, this should be an enjoyable title for most people. Even for those people who know the history though, enjoy the film as presented, if you want facts then go and watch a documentary. Solid acting, good direction and epic set pieces make this a good film worth watching, even if it doesn’t reach greatness. For that, dig out your copy of Moby Dick which is naturally a far superior title.
The Sage’s Rating: 7/10