Monday, December 07, 2015

In The Heart Of The Sea

Year: 2015
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, Charlotte Riley

Plot: Based on the true story of the crew of the whale hunting ship Essex, that were stranded at sea after being attacked by a massive sperm whale.

Review: This film marks Ron Howard's sixth true story adaptation, which is testament to the man's great talent at the genre.

In The Heart Of The Sea is set in Nantucket in 1820, where the whale oil industry is booming. The hunt for whales in order to meet the demand for the oil made from their fat is at a high. Experienced whale hunter Owen Chase sets out on the Essex, a whale hunting ship as its first mate, under the command of George Pollard, an inexperienced captain. After unsuccessfully trying to fill their quota of 2000 barrels in the South Atlantic Sea, they hear of an area in the Pacific ocean where huge whales have been sighted, and head there. But in their attempt to harvest their oil, a huge sperm whale attacks their ship, subsequently sinking it. The men are forced to survive at sea in their lifeboats, with very little direction and much less provisions.

In terms of look and feel, Howard has done a splendid job. The era of 1820s Nantucket looks good, and the whale itself looks very intimidating, though its presence is slighted by a lack of wide shots by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. The plot is basically split between the men's survival at sea in the second half, and the tension between Chase and Pollard, caused by the former's origins as a "land man" versus the latter's family holding the monopoly of the oil industry in Nantucket.

Now, while the story is fascinating and Howard's direction being solid for the most part, the film isn't as engaging as it could have been. There are several moments when the film drags, and it does take a while before the big whale makes its debut. Howard also missed the opportunity to develop the relationship between Chase and Pollard. He did well in laying the groundwork, but he could have done much more to establish their rivalry. Howard did much better in this regard for Rush, where the two lead characters Hunt and Lauda shared a disdain that eventually became mutual respect. And while their harrowing survival story at sea is told well, it isn't as compelling as say, Cast Away or even Unbroken.

Chris Hemsworth does a good job as Chase, but one gets the feeling that he is slightly miscast. Hemsworth excels at playing free spirited and reckless guys, like Thor or James Hunt. Chase is a fair man who takes care of his crew, both young and old. An older actor would have suited the role better. Benjamin Walker is better as Pollard, balancing the fine act between being proud of his heritage and being responsible as the ship's captain. Tom Holland, the new Spider-Man, acquits himself well as 14-year old seaman Tom Nickerson, while Cillian Murphy is alright as second mate Matthew Joy. Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw round up the cast as the older Tom Nickerson and Moby Dick author Herman Melville, in the scenes where the former tells the story of the Essex to the latter. They both do fine, but the film belongs to the men on the ship. Also noteworthy is Game Of Thrones' Michelle Fairley as Tom's wife, who makes each of her few scenes count.

In closing I'd say In The Heart Of The Sea is a decent sea adventure, but not an epic one, and definitely not Ron Howard's best work. But still, it's quite watchable, at least before Star Wars rolls in. (7/10)

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