<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Riley, Frank Dillane, Jordi Molla
Running Time: 2 hours
It’s not about the book but more about how the story for the book was inspired.
I’ve been trying to get through Moby-Dick by Herman Melville for a while now. It’s an epic read with a chapter devoted to everything from the first mates to the history of whaling and why it was a noble profession. I don’t mind watching the movie first but In the Heart of the Sea isn’t really about Ahab and the whale. It’s about how author Herman Melville found the source material for his classic novel. It was based on the true story of a whaling vessel called the Essex that was destroyed by a giant white sperm whale protecting its school. In the early 1800s whale oil was used to light up cities and lead to the slaughter of thousands of these noble creatures.
In the film, Melville (Ben Whishaw) seeks out the only living survivor of the Essex mishap: Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) to hear his story of their survival lost at sea without a ship and being followed by the ‘white beast’. And so it goes… that Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was the experienced first officer aboard the Essex serving Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who was his senior owing to his lineage and not his merit. Friction ensues between the two as they search the seas to fill their galleons with barrels of oil.
While you’re watching these men harpoon the mothers and fathers of helpless calf whales you have little sympathy for mankind. You almost will the whales to attack and destroy them. And so they do. In marvellously shot and directed sequences that put you in the centre of the action. This is particularly well suited to IMAX, where the full effect of the golden yellow and shimmering blue spectacle shines through. There is one scene though that makes the CGI green screen very evident but that’s the pitfall of utilising too much of it.
Hemsworth is a capable actor along with being extremely good looking. And as much as he carries the film on his broad shoulders there’s something missing in his performance. Also, it’s hard to sympathise with the men lost at sea, battling their demons and committing ‘atrocities’ when you’ve just watched them killing innocent whales. The film acknowledges this in a poignant scene between Owen and Captain Pollard: is man really the king of the world, with the power to dominate and steer nature to his will? Or are we just mere specks of dust that should respect our environment lest we are destroyed by it?
Hemsworth and the crew had a devil of a time filming and looking the part of men stranded at sea for weeks without food. Read this article from the nydailynews.com: Chris Hemsworth says filming ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ was physically and emotionally difficult.
In the Heart of the Sea is a beautiful-looking film about human nature and resilience as well as the ability to realise what is right and wrong.
PS: I noticed that in the scenes showing Melville writing about the story, the words ‘Moby Dick’ are not hyphenated as it is in the book Moby-Dick.
It is also a film the good people of Japan should watch considering their reckless hunting of whales in the face of so many natural and man-made catastrophes that befall the country.