Films are supposed to transport us to another place, another time. Few recent efforts have done it better than this one.
In the Heart of the Sea is based on the non-fiction book of the same name which tells the story that inspired Moby-Dick, whose author, Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) tracks down the last surviving member of the ill-fated Essex voyage (Brendan Gleeson). He recounts the tale of the ship and its first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and crew, including a very gaunt Cillian Murphy.
This film succeeds admiringly in enthralling us in a very different world where whales are the biggest, greatest challenge and there’s no greater achievement than harpooning a mammoth of the ocean. Setting out on the voyage, the action sequences are vivid and consuming, the crew first becoming entangled in a storm and later spotting white water and chasing down a pod of whales.
Under Ron Howard’s direction, the imagery conjured up in this movie evokes the classic imagery of seafaring you can only get from reading epic novels like Moby-Dick, not least of all in the moments when Hemsworth is front and centre. Ideally cast and filling the role with his now trademark stoicism, Hemsworth’s presence lent inimitably to even the most dramatic, action-filled sequences.
Taking thematic inspiration from its source material, In the Heart of the Sea shares many themes with Melville’s iconic predecessor – a fear yet fascination with the unknown, the stolid determination of its crew and the absolutely awe-inspiring power of nature confronting both the film’s, and book’s protagonists.
A great effort, In the Heart of the Sea nevertheless errs in two important respects. First, while taking on board the themes of its thematic precursor, the film neglects to explore so many of the aspects of cetology and whaling which made Moby-Dick so intriguing. The flick features one engrossing sequence where a young character is forced inside a whale carcass to extract oil, painfully delivering barrel-loads to the waiting crew. Granted, a film cannot do justice to the 600 odd pages Melville dedicates to the countless whalers who lost their toes or the ways in which the sea mammals defend their own, yet a little more of a focus on the craft itself would not have gone amiss.
Secondly, the film’s penultimate moments, filled with moral turpitude and the less than glamorous aspects of the whole affair, were woefully and inadequately dealt with when it came to the final reveal. Content with attracting a wider audience, the decision to leave the narrative’s lynchpin and so much of what drove this story unexplored is a significant letdown, but not one that distracts from an otherwise highly accomplished film.
Weaving elements of Master and Commander, Castaway, Mutiny on the Bounty and of course Melville’s classic, In the Heart of the Sea is a thoroughly impressive, sumptuous feast for the eyes.
In The Heart of the Sea is in cinemas now
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