December 10, 2015
"In the Heart of the Sea" the film is based on a nonfiction book of the same title written by Nathaniel Philbrick in 2000. The book recounted the sinking of an American whaleship from Nantucket called the Essex after it was attacked by a sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean in November 1820, and their 90 harrowing days at sea on their rowboats before they were rescued. Philbrick used Essex cabin boy Thomas Nickerson's account to write his book, along with that of the first mate Owen Chase, who became the central character of the film.
The film framed the main shipwreck story with a fictional story of author Herman Melville interviewing its own version Thomas Nickerson, an old man permanently scarred by his harrowing experience as a cabin boy on the Essex. Melville would then eventually use the information he gathered from this interview to write his timeless 1851 classic "Moby Dick." In reality, it was Owen Chase's 1821 published account that inspired Melville to write "Moby Dick", not Nickerson's (which was only found in 1960, authenticated in 1980 and finally published in 1984).
Chris Hemsworth was very well cast as Owen Chase. His towering height and magnetic screen presence served well for Hemsworth to be convincing as the fearless hero, capable whaler and honorable ship official. You can appreciate his commitment to his craft when you see him lose actual body heft in the course of this film to make the months lost at sea as realistic as possible. After his turns as the Huntsman to Kristen Stewart's Snow White and this one, it would seem Hemsworth also fits perfectly as hero in period films, in addition to that god from Asgard.
Benjamin Walker effectively played Captain George Pollard, Jr., a man named captain of the Essex by nepotism and not by actual worth. I recognized actor Walker as the same guy who played Abraham Lincoln the Vampire Hunter in a 2012 graphic novel fantasy film. Pollard's competition for authority against the alpha-male Chase was interesting at the start but this conflict lost steam towards the end without another climactic confrontation.
Tom Holland (the actor already announced to be the new Spider-Man) played young Thomas Nickerson, the cabin boy and youngest member of the Essex crew. Cillian Murphy was Matthew Joy, as a crew member caught in a difficult dilemma because of a morally-challenging order by his captain. In the framing sequences, Ben Whishaw played Herman Melville, while the ever-reliable Brendan Gleeson played the old Thomas Nickerson with Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark in "Game of Thrones") playing the loyal Mrs. Nickerson.
It has been some time already since director Ron Howard had Oscar-caliber epic films like "Apollo 13" (1995) and "A Beautiful Mind" (2001). This new one may get awards attention for him, but chances for nominations would be higher in the technical aspects of visual effects, cinematography, costumes and makeup. On the negative side, the staticness of the storytelling narrative scenes and the redundant shipwreck survival scenes took too much time and may feel boring for some.
The scenes with the whales were the definite highlights of this film. That long sequence depicting the capture of a whale up to those graphic scenes of harvesting the blubber out from a whale carcass were very memorable. The ferocity of that great white whale was frighteningly real even if it were only computer-generated. The way Howard executed those scenes of those majestic creatures of the ocean, you will feel and understand the whale's anger against the man's cruel invasion into their territory. 7/10.