Movie Review: In the Heart of the Sea

In-the-Heart-of-the-Sea 3stars-1

PG-13  |  121 min

Director: Ron Howard

by Jason Koenigsberg

The opening moment of In the Heart of the Sea is an underwater shot with narration about how the dark depths of the ocean holds great unknown terrors. We then see part of a sperm whale scroll across the screen and the title is displayed. Ron Howard’s new nautical adventure film makes is clear that this story based on the real events that inspired Herman Melville to write his classic novel Moby Dick. The entire movie unfolds as Melville (played by Ben Whishaw) is interviewing Brendan Gleeson, the last known survivor of a tragic whaling expedition on a ship called the Essex, who reluctantly tells the young writer his harrowing tale at sea. 

This film has waited for a long time to be released. Originally slated to hit theaters this past March, Warner Bros. pushed it back until December because they felt it could really contend for major awards. Although it came up empty handed after the Golden Globe nominations were announced today, In the Heart of the Sea is a riveting adventure film with strong performances and heavy emphasis on its human dynamics even more than its pulse pounding special effects sequences. 

At the center of the film is Chris Hemsworth who is really given the movie star treatment as the confident hero with swagger and also a commanding sense of intelligence that we have not really seen from him before. This is the second consecutive Ron Howard film he has starred in, Howard directed him in his previous film drama Rush (2013) another true story about friendships and rivalries being tested in Formula One Racing. Rush was one of Ron Howard’s finest films and In the Heart of the Sea is even better. This is Chris Hemsworth’s best acting to date and it was a nice change of pace from him usually playing the savvy, seemingly perfect alpha-male that everyone else envies and has the world at his fingertips. Here, his character is deserving of being captain of the whaling ship but is denied due to the fact that the ship’s owners son is given that title. Hemsworth’s role in this movie really compliments his performance from Rush and will probably not get all the recognition that it deserves. 

The power struggle on the ship between Hemsworth as the first mate and the privileged captain played by Benjamin Walker was very well acted by both men and really drives home the powerful human element from In the Heart of the Sea which is probably the films greatest strength. Especially nice was an early scene in Nantucket before the ship sets sail the audience gets a taste of how dangerous whaling was and that every time these men go out to sea, everyone involved knows they might not ever come back. 

From a technical stand point In the Heart of the Sea is top notch, which is what we have come to expect from Ron Howard who specializes in big budget studio films. The cinematography is good on land during many dark scenes with lamps lit by whale oil, but it is spectacular during all of the scenes out in the Ocean. This film has great costumes and striking sets that are real and seamlessly blend in with the CGI effects that were used. The score by Roque Banos compliments the action scenes and quieter moments well. It is also edited where the action moves along smoothly never feeling rushed yet never slow but at a nice brisk pace even when they cut from rousing action at sea back to the interviewer and his subject recounting his story. 

The lone problem with In the Heart of the Sea is the fact that even though everything looks superb and the acting is high caliber, once it was over you may find your self saying, “so what?”. Everything is there to be great, yet there is a hollowness to the story that prevents the film from being great and instead just a really fun, action-packed two hours. Seeing this film on the big screen is most certainly going to enhance the impact of the film so you should make time to see it in theaters. But In the Heart of the Sea may have actually been even better if it were released last March during what is usually the doldrums of the movie calendar and it would have stood out more as a breath of fresh air. Either way, Ron Howard has constructed one of his better films, Chris Hemsworth gives his deepest and most challenging performance yet and the action and technical aspects all warrant a recommendation for In the Heart of the Sea. 

Prior to this movie, John Huston’s film adaptation of Moby Dick (1956) starring Gregory Peck in one of his most memorable roles as the obsessive Captain Ahab and Richard Basehart as Ishmael is a great film in its own right and one of the best depictions of the long lost whaling culture that our world once depended on for oil. Check out the trailer below and see John Huston’s Moby Dick if you can.

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