New reviews, interviews, and features via RSS or Email.

Sponsored Links

In the Heart of the Sea

(2015) *** Pg-13
121 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw.

/content/films/4859/1.jpg“Too much is true!” So bellows former cabin boy Thomas Nickerson, as he confesses the horrors of the whaling vessel Essex to none other than Great American Novelist Herman Melville in the fact-based drama In the Heart of the Sea. As Hollywood has it, the author’s fact-finding mission took the form of this emotional confab, more or less directly leading to his 1851 classic Moby Dick. In fact, Melville consulted another man’s memoir for inspiration, but the excusable white(-whale) lie makes a dramatically effective, if obvious, framing device.

Adapted by Charles Leavitt from Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, director Ron Howard’s latest mostly unfolds aboard the Essex, circa 1820. Executives on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts crew up their ship with reluctant First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), whose promised captainship has gone the way of nepotism, to inexperienced seaman and corporate scion George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker). It’s a recipe for tension as the deeply frustrated Chase attempts to maintain effectiveness without boiling over with masculine pride and baldly undermining his captain.

Once the stormy weather turns literal, the Essex meets the first of its trials, and soon desperation for a successful haul of whale oil—that which keeps the lights on in 19th-century America—emboldens Pollard, Chase, and Second Mate Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy, making the most of an underwritten role) to chase a report of a pod of hundreds of whales in the South Pacific, despite warnings of a “demon” among them. And so the Essex sails to “the edge of sanity,” where they indeed encounter the rumored great whale, “white as alabaster, hundred feet long,” and ominously scarred.

Soon, business concerns turn to an out-and-out struggle for survival, as the whale lays waste to the ship and subtracts from the 21 souls aboard. Our witness to it all is young Nickerson (Tom Holland of The Impossible), who suffers torments like being lowered into the head of a dead whale to extract the last drops of oil, but also enjoys male bonding with fellow orphan Chase. Back in 1850, the elder Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) unloads every gory detail on Melville (Ben Whishaw).

There’s something simply compelling about how the latter scenes depict a writer’s process of scavenging and soul-stealing, and something deliciously tart in the era-spanning references to being “in the oil business” to the exclusion of morality and ethics, and with implications for the ecosystem. The mercenaries who agree to be exploited in these twinned endeavors—Nickerson doubly so—must muster “the courage to go where one does not want to go.”

The audiences gamest for this journey will be responding to its old-fashioned sea-yarn pleasures, newfangled a bit by 3D-enhanced CGI and “overboard” color timing. Though the action tends to be more visceral than comprehensible, and the shipboard scenes rarely leave a green-screened studio for open-sea verisimilitude, the well-suited cast performs admirably (Hemsworth’s wandering dialect nothwithstanding). Too much is true? Not quite, but In the Heart of the Sea turns out to have a fair ratio of truth to hooey, its seascape of a nervy shake-up cruise painted in saltwater spray and the blood of man and beast.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links