These days seeing a movie based on a book is pretty much the norm. In fact, books are being written almost solely to get a movie made about them. So it’s a little refreshing when a film comes out based on a novel written way before film was even a twinkle in Edison’s eye. “In the Heart of the Sea” isn’t exactly based on a novel, however, but rather the story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick in 1850. Having just finished it I am happy to report that it was quite the tale, and more than I had expected to get.
There are a lot of classic novels out there that every grandparent will tell their grandchildren they should read. I was given Moby Dick at a young age but never actually read it, seeing how I didn’t know what at least half of the words were. I’ve seen a few film representations of the story and they’ve definitely been entertaining, but Ron Howard really latched onto something with “In the Heart of the Sea”. Not just the story of the great white whale, but of whaling men, their camaraderie during tested times, and of the courage they had. The story is obviously similar to that of Melville’s great American novel, but it was acted and directed with precision.
Chris Hemsworth leads the cast as First Mate Owen Chase, of the Essex out of Nantucket in 1820. Rounding out the cast is also Cillian Murphy – a personal favorite of mine, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, and Tom Holland. Unless you’re me none of these names probably mean anything to you, but I guarantee you’ve seen these faces before. In fact, Tom Holland is the new Spiderman in the MCU, and he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. Many of these actors are already listed as all-around types and can give amazing performances in just about any role, but Hemsworth really pushed some boundaries here to let people see him as someone other than Thor, and he succeeded. I imagine it’s hard, at least nowadays, to get people to care about a movie taking place in the 1800’s that’s about whaling. Today’s crowd wants explosions, slow motion, fast cuts, and spin around hero shots, none of which are present in “In the Heart of the Sea”. But that’s where it’s great; this film is all story and acting.
I found it very difficult to notice any weak points but then again that’s not something Ron Howard is accustomed to. In case the name isn’t familiar he’s the director behind films such as “Apollo 13”, “Cinderella Man”, and “A Beautiful Mind”. All of that amazing filmmaking is present here as well, making us a part of this voyage and putting us to work alongside these seafarers, something very difficult to do. As the story unfolds we see the strife these characters go through and are reminded that this is the actual story of the men of the Essex, not a fabricated tale by some scribe in Hollywood. The effects bring to life the rush of hunting a whale, as well as the fear of being hunted by one. Watching the men cut, clean, and boil the whale blubber was both gruesome and intriguing to watch, especially when young Tom Holland was shoved into the head of a whale to retrieve the spermaceti oil (oil used to lubricate machinery and create candles). Even though I highly doubt a lot of the film was shot on actual open water, the scenes of them flying over the waves and hurling their harpoons at pods of whales really brings the viewer into the experience. Which makes it all the more exciting when the white monstrosity attacks.
Terror for scale.
One last thing I’d like to add to this review is the score. Roque Baños (how cool is the name Roque?) really brought this film to life. There were definite moments that edged on tearful thanks to the score, and of course stood out to me as a big proponent of why the film worked.
DIRECTOR’S CUT: Great film retelling what you know of Moby Dick in an entirely new light. Excellent acting and a heart-wrenching score make this THE film on whaling to watch. That’s also a sentence I never expected to write.
SCENE COLLECTED: [SPOILER ALERT] There’s a great yet sad moment after the survivors land upon a deserted island. Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) says his goodbye’s to Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy), a childhood friend and frequent sailing companion. Joy decides to stay behind on the island while Chase leaves with the others in search of rescue. The music and the chemistry is so palpable that it creates this amazing sadness on the screen.
FLICKCHART RATING: 324/2361