Director Ron Howard breathes new life into the classic story of Moby Dick with “In The Heart Of The Sea.”
The story opens with novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) arriving at the home of Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland), a broken-down drunk who never got over his experience years ago as a cabin boy on the whaling ship Essex.
Hungry for a story he can spin into his next book, Melville offers Nickerson a large sum of money to tell his tale. Nickerson refuses but then relents when his wife (Michelle Fairley) makes it clear how badly they need the money.
Cut to 1820 and a poor farm outside Nantucket, Mass. Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) is about to leave his wife and unborn child for another lengthy stint on a whaling boat. This is an exciting day for Chase, for after years of being one of the area’s top whalers, he is going to get to captain his own ship.
But when he arrives at the front office, things have changed. The captain’s job has been given to George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker), a man with little in the way of sailing skills but much in terms of his family name. Chase is given the role of First Officer. Neither he nor Pollard are happy with the arrangement.
The Essex is late in leaving dry land and far behind all the other whaling ships. Bad weather and bad decisions eventually leave the ship on a desperate mission to go far out to sea to find whales. The gamble almost pays off when they come upon a huge pod of whales.
I say “almost” because no sooner are they hard at work when the biggest, baddest, sperm whale of them all takes out Chase’s whaling boat and then rams the Essex, sending it to the bottom of the ocean.
Thousands of miles from land, what is left of The Essex’s crew will struggle to survive in three small whaling boats. And don’t think the leviathan is done with them yet.
Based on the 2000 non-fiction book “In The Heart Of The Sea” by Nathaniel Philbrick, the film version sheds new light on the story of literature’s most famous whale. It’s an old-fashioned style epic but with plenty of 21st century special effects. The whaling scenes are gripping, too bad there weren’t more of them.
Hemsworth and the rest of the cast do good work. “In The Heart Of The Sea” is at times thrilling and at times plodding, but overall its an engaging movie. But it doesn’t quite raise to the level of epic.