One of the biggest compliments I can give In the Heart of the Sea is that for the first hour at least, it made me want to be a whaler. The way that director Ron Howard brought the profession to the screen, using ambitious camera angles, fast-paced editing and a host of characters who were likeable and felt real, managed to capture both my excitement and imagination. Something as simple as casting off and “setting sail” was made to feel like an adventure.
This pace doesn’t relent either and soon the ship is amongst the whales and we see how these fearless fisherman managed to catch their prey. It is presented in all it’s brutal, realistic and quite shocking glory, with guts, blood and seawater being thrown at the screen. It makes for an impressive look back at an often forgotten part of history and no matter what you think of the practice and as brutal as it is, here it is made to look glamorous, majestic and romantic.
The film doesn’t take long to introduce the key protagonist however. The Whale that inspired Moby Dick is a piece of CGI crafting and a very good one. The sequences involving the whale’s attack on the ship are all very impressive, with the camera being in amongst the action as crew members are thrown in the air, swallowed by the unforgiving sea or pulled across the deck by splintering and cracked rigging. It is edge of the seat stuff and delivers some of the best moments of the film.
Unfortunately, this sequence is halfway through the film. In the Heart of the Sea is based on a true story and recapturing dramatic events can both help and hinder your movie. The story of the crew of the Essex is a very interesting one but it involves a lot of “waiting and surviving.” What these people did was incredible but seeing them slowly fade away, through starvation, insanity and desperation, doesn’t always make for thrilling watching, particularly when compared to a whale attack.
It means that the movie relies a lot on the cast to bring the audience through. Luckily, the cast here are more than able. It is a male dominated cast but with the subject matter you’d expect that. The lead is an ever reliable Chris Hemsworth who is building an impressive catalogue for his acting talents. Here he is the likeable experienced First Mate Owen Chase, one trip away from Captain. His interactions with future Spiderman Tom Holland are some of the best in the movie and make for a believable and interesting relationship.
On the opposite side to Hemsworth is inexperienced Captain George Pollard, played by Benjamin Walker. The conflict between the hand-picked but poor Captain against the experienced but scarred Hemsworth is a compelling one which unfortunately becomes lost in amongst the more pressing drama that surrounds them. There is key character development but it is rushed through, particularly in the third act of the movie.
This is a film about the survival of these characters and the fact that it is a true story, although plainly exaggerated in places, makes it even more compelling. The film throws you straight into the action and presents the characters desperation perfectly. There are moments that could have been gruesome and presented for all their horror which are suggested and spoke about, rather than shown, demonstrating Howard’s restraint and how reaction can tell a story better than horror and shock often can.
Overall, In the Heart of the Sea is a thrilling way in which to present an incredible true story. It begins with a romantic, compelling look at being a whaler and then presents disaster and catastrophe in brutal realism. Unfortunately, the second half slows the pace and doesn’t present anything we haven’t seen before. Luckily, the cast is up to the task of pulling the audience through the to the unbelievable ending.
Rating – 4.5
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