Synopsis: In 1820, crewmen (Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy) aboard the New England vessel Essex face a harrowing battle for survival when a whale of mammoth size and strength attacks with force, crippling their ship and leaving them adrift in the ocean. Pushed to their limits and facing storms, starvation, panic and despair, the survivors must resort to the unthinkable to stay alive. Their incredible tale ultimately inspires author Herman Melville to write “Moby Dick.”
Release Date: December 11, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Action
Most know the story of “Moby Dick,” but few know about the real-life Essex, the whaling ship at the center of In the Heart of the Sea. Much like the Pequod, the Essex sails off in search of oil and eventually crosses paths with a massive white whale. The whale, despite being a creature of the sea, has an almost human-like drive for revenge, pestering the Essex like a serial killer in a ’90s horror movie. What might be considered a lesser mammal turns out to be a formidable foe for the Essex and its crew. And it is on the back of this struggle, man vs. whale, that In the Heart of the Sea crafts a compelling piece of fictionalized history, one that is every bit as harrowing as Melville’s adaptation.
Although In the Heart of the Sea will likely be sold to viewers because of its connections to “Moby Dick,” the true tale is far less concerned with how the showdown plays out. Rather, the film puts its focus on the Essex crew’s quest for survival, which is both gripping and heartbreaking. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the whale turns the tables quickly and the crew is forced to find hope while drifting 2,000 miles from land. Before things turn into a struggle to stay alive, though, there are some truly thrilling sequences with the whale, and some informative ones as well. But In the Heart of the Sea is more a portrait of man’s will to survive the elements than it is a conflict between a whale and a sea vessel.
It’s a good thing then that In the Heart of the Sea has enlisted the help of one of Hollywood’s up and coming leading men, Chris Hemsworth, to anchor its tale. As First Mate Owen Chase, Hemsworth is every bit the dashing seaman you’d hope he’d be – confident, knowledgable, and endlessly charming. However it’s the dramatic turns once the Essex runs into trouble that make Hemsworth’s performance standout, as you watch a seemingly fearless man face death. Is it an awards-worthy performance? Probably not, but Hemsworth does enough to make Chase’s arc feel meaningful. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the rest of the cast. Outside of a few noteworthy performances by Benjamin Walker as Captain Pollard and Tom Holland as Thomas Nickerson (the Essex’s naÃ¯ve errand boy) the cast is fairly forgettable in the whaling scenes, but the second half is where they all shine. It would have been nice to get to know each character a little better in order to develop connections, but that’s a small gripe. Knowing that this is, in part, based on a true story grounds the scenes enough as it is. Still, this is Hemsworth’s show and he carries the film well.
In the Heart of the Sea is a beautifully crafted film as well, with superb composition, excellent production design, and tight editing. The film could have easily turned into a tireless slog if executed poorly, but it is impeccably put together. The cinematography while on the Essex is especially impressive, giving a true sense of what it’s like to be out on the sea. The only real complaint is that the camera can get a little too shaky during scenes on smaller boats, but it’s not enough to ruin the viewing experience.
Simple and clean is the best way to describe In the Heart of the Sea. It doesn’t overuse CGI or spectacle to feel like an action movie and it doesn’t turn Hemsworth into some sort of Adonis-like hero. The film puts its subject matter at the forefront and lets the compelling story drive the viewer forward. The whale might be the big seller for In the Heart of the Sea, but it’s the Essex crew’s struggle to survive that make it memorable.
With director Ron Howard at the helm, In the Heart of the Sea was bound to be of a certain quality. A veteran of film and TV for 20+ years, Howard knows how best to tell a story, and he breathes life into the Essex’s adventure with minimal effort. From top to bottom, In the Heart of the Sea is a well-made film with beautiful cinematography and high quality production design. In less capable hands this could have been an utterly forgettable film, but in Howard’s it’s harrowing, gut-wrenching, and altogether thrilling.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ron Howard
- Screenwriter(s): Charles Leavitt
- Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Owen Chase)Benjamin Walker (George Pollard)Cillian Murphy (Matthew Joy) Brendan Gleeson (Tom Nickerson)Ben Whishaw (Herman Melville)
- Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Roque Banos
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA