DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (director: Ron Howard; screenwriters: story by Charles Leavitt/ Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver/based on the book “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick; cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle; editors: Mike Hill, Dan Hanley; music: Roque Banos;; cast: Chris Hemsworth (Owen Chase), Benjamin Walker (George Pollard), Cillian Murphy (Matthew Joy), Tom Holland (Tom Nickerson), Brendan Gleeson (Tom Nickerson), Joseph Mawle (Benjamin Lawrence), Ben Whishaw (Herman Melville), Paul Anderson (Caleb Chappel), Edward Ashley (Barzillai Ray), Gary Beadle (William Bond), Richard Bremmer (Benjamin Fuller), Frank Dillane (Henry Coffin), Michelle Fairley (Mrs. Nickerson), Osy Ikhile (Richard Peterson), Sam Keeley (Ramsdell), Jordi Molla (Spanish Captain), Charlotte Riley (Peggy Chase), Jamie Sives (Cole), Morgan Chetcuti (Sheppard), Donald Sumpter (Paul Mason); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Bruce Berman, Sarah Bradshaw, Palak Patel, Erica Huggins, Daniel Bergstein; Warner Bros.; 2015-3D)

"If you don't compare it to the Moby Dick novel, the film is not that bad as a man’s survival in nature picture."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 nonfiction best seller, “In the Heart of the Sea. Ron Howard ("Rush"/"Made in America"/"Frost/Nixon") keeps the narrative most of the time less than exciting by his pedestrian direction, and the old-fashioned storytelling is mostly leaden. But its visuals are fine, its heart is in the right place pointing out the greed of the ship owners and the story it tells greatly interests me despite its drawbacks in presentation. What it never gets is the depth the story required to make it an awesome seafaring tale. That was gotten by Herman Melville who was inspired by the true story and fictionalized it in 1850 into the epic Moby Dick, a book many consider as the best American novel ever.  If this film does nothing more than inspire those who never read Moby Dick to do so, it proves it worth.

Howard's somewhat moribund film tells us of the doomed whaling voyage of the Essex, that sailed in 1820 from Nantucket, and how the ship was wrecked in the South Pacific by a vengeful mammoth white sperm whale. The few survivors were stranded for ninety-days at sea on rowboats before rescued by a Spanish ship at sea off the coast of Chile in 1821. We learn they survived without provisions at sea in the same way the Donner Party did on land by cannibalism.

The real story of what happened was never told until Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visits in 1850, in Nantucket, the last remaining survivor from the Essex, the downtrodden middle-aged Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). The survivor was 14 (Tom Holland) when he made his first sea voyage as a cabin boy, which was on the doomed whaling ship, and since rescued refused to tell anyone, including his boardinghouse owner wife (Michelle Fairley), what happened and how he shamefully survived. But Melville pesters him and pays him to talk until he reluctantly does.

The uncaring ship owners choose the upper-crust greenhorn George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) to be captain, in his first command, because of nepotism, even though they promised the experienced whaler, the son of an imprisoned farmer, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), his own ship. Instead they raise Owen's pay and promise him his own ship if this whaling voyage is a success, and thereby hire him as a first mate so they have an experienced officer on the Essex. Because of Pollard's inexperience and arrogance, the officers are in constant conflict. Their conflict was too familiar to get your attention.

The seafaring adventure kicks in with computerized whales hunted and when the monster white whale fights back at the humans for killing them to take their oil to light their homes.

The details of the 19th period are right on. If you don't compare it to the Moby Dick novel, the film is not that bad as a man’s survival in nature picture.

REVIEWED ON 12/11/2015       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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