MOVIE REVIEWIf you were spared from reading the novel Moby-Dick when you were in school, you might be surprised to learn that the Herman Melville story was actually inspired by true events. In 1820, the whaling ship, the Essex from New England was the target of a giant white whale and if In the Heart of the Sea is accurate, that creature had a score to settle with the ship’s crew. Chris Hemsworth, who plays First Mate Owen Chase, says it best: “The hunter became the hunted.” For some directors, there would be a temptation to treat scenes to become similar to “Jaws” but while the film has plenty of action, Ron Howard smartly focuses more on the human interaction of the story.
Based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick, the story begins with Melville (Ben Whishaw) seeking out an aging Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who was a cabin boy on the Essex and is the last living survivor of the attack. Melville desperately wants to hear Nickerson’s story firsthand as he knows that this information would help him write the next bestseller. At first Nickerson refuses, but after some prodding from his wife (Michelle Fairley), he relents.
Nickerson tells about how Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was to captain the ship, but was demoted to serve as first mate instead. This might have to do with the fact that Chase was born into a family of farmers which didn’t look so good on paper. Instead, the investors of the trip offered the captain job to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), an inexperienced man but one who came from a family with a great reputation. Young Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland) observed how these two men clashed right from the beginning. Chase was insulted since he was promised the job and Pollard hated the idea that he would be babysat by Chase. It is not surprising that the ship suffered a major blow when Pollard wanted to go through a storm while Chase wanted to go around it. After a successful killing of a smaller whale, the ship met the big one who wanted nothing more than to kill the entire crew.
It should be no surprise to no one reading this review that most of the ship’s crew do not make it all the way to the end of the movie for a variety of reasons, but the good part of the movie’s storytelling is that you don’t know who will survive and who won’t until each character’s fate is revealed. This is an adventure film but a more somber one than many of us are used to and it is also a drama with many layers:
For one, we learn that Tom Nickerson held on to a dreadful secret for many, many years thinking that if anyone knew the truth about him ad what he did on that ship they would shun him. He couldn’t even tell his secret to his wife and it greatly affected their marriage.
Owen Chase is faced with a choice of making a name for himself on the Essex or staying behind for the birth of his first child. His wife, Peggy (Charlotte Riley) is perhaps too worried that he won’t come home and Chase being a little too over-confident that he will.
Chase and Pollard battle their pride to work together on the ship.
Despite what you think you see on the movie posters, In the Heart of the Sea isn’t an “action” movie. It’s an adventure film. It isn’t a feel good movie either. In a lot of ways it is a depressing one with just a glimmer of hope. It doesn’t have a “happy” ending, but it does have a satisfying one as there are no loose threads to tie up. The film deals with issues like pride, family, loyalty, faith and brotherhood. With a lot to make you think when you leave the theater.
The 3D photography is amazing to look at and you really get a sense that you are really there struggling with these men trying to survive. The acting is also very good with no weak links in the chain. I was especially impressed with Tom Holland’s performance and there is no trace of Thor in Hemsworth’s performance either. You just might not want to go out for fish and chips afterward.