In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. "In the Heart of the Sea" reveals the encounter's harrowing aftermath, as the ship's surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade, as their captain searches for direction on the open sea and his first mate still seeks to bring the great whale down.
In the movie, Herman Melville himself interviews Nickerson, a survivor of the Essex, and eventually uses his tale as the starting point for his novel Moby Dick. In reality, while it's true that the sinking of the Essex inspired Melville (in particular Owen Chase's account of the events), Nickerson wrote down his memoirs for a minor writer, who never used them; there is no account of Nickerson meeting Melville or interacting with him. See more »
While the film depicts Owen Chase as older and more experienced than Captain George Pollard, Pollard was in fact older, being 29 when Essex sailed to Chase's 23. While Essex was Pollard's first captaincy, he had actually been serving as an officer aboard her for eight years of highly successful and lucrative whaling voyages. The tension between the two men was significantly played up for the film. See more »
[in his letter]
How does one come to know the unknowable? What faculties must a man possess? Since it was discovered that whale oil could light our cities in ways never achieved before, it created global demand. It has pushed man to venture further and further into the deep blue unknown. We know not its depths, nor the host of creatures that live there. Monsters. Are they real?
[a huge whale passes]
Or do the stories exist only to make us respect the sea's dark secrets?
[...] See more »
It is said that we understand more about space than our own sea, although one thing both realms have in common is the propensity to convey epic journeys to silver screen. There's an inherent romantic feel to maritime life, even as a tragic showing like Life of Pi or Titanic. This is the same attribute "In the Heart of the Sea" has, and even though there are minor blemishes, it still produces a good human drama shown by impeccable visual atmosphere.
This is a retelling of a particular ship's ordeal, also an inspiration for the novel Moby Dick. It is told from an account of then young crew member, he now tells the story of adventure and misery in his older days. While it's a good ground for characterization and set-up, it might overhype its own story and break the pacing slightly. Fortunately, Brendan Gleeson and Michelle Fairley are capable enough to maintain their own mini subplot.
The actual voyage consists of two leads, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Owen is a veteran sailor, who is promised a captain seat, but ultimately denied of the right because of nepotism favoring George. The two collides frequently, and more than once their dispute ends up bringing malady to the ship and its crew.
Chris Hemsworth is a great actor, however this is not the same level of rivalry he had in Rush. It is by no fault of Benjamin Walker who does try to fulfill the role, but he doesn't portray the personality clash of an epic saga. In fact, Hemsworth has more connection with Gillian Murphy, the third in command, even though they have lesser screen time together. The rest of the crew isn't compelling enough, in exception of young Nickerson who will eventually narrates it.
For most part the visual is splendid, mainly when it transcends the barrier between sea line and underwater. On some scenes it pans out so nicely it brings an alluringly harrowing view of ocean, its human drifters and beastly occupants. It has overall bluish tone that keeps the cold isolation vibe while the gigantic whale, though we know it's CG as whale is too much of a diva to work with, is still pretty convincing in close up.
Plot keeps a straightforward momentum, although it may be inconsistent sometimes. There are parts where it seems to dawdle for ten or fifteen minute more than needs be, while some scenes are cut short and ultimately feels disjointed. It's not a big issue, but it does make the story skips rather abruptly or plods at times.
In the Heart of the Sea is an interesting excursion with fine visual. Granted, it doesn't navigate well enough under some waves, yet this homage to a great classic has its enchanting and inspiring moments.
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