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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

In The Heart of the Sea | Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw | Review

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE

 

In The Heart Of The Sea

For those who had no idea, Herman Melville's 1851 classic novel Moby Dick was actually inspired by the true story of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship that was attacked by a mammoth sperm whale in the middle of the Pacific in 1820.

That incredible real life story was recounted in Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 best selling nonfiction book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of  the Whaleship Essex.  The book became the basis for Ron Howard's latest film, In the Heart of the Sea, a dramatic sea adventure that reunites the Oscar winning director with Chris Hemsworth, the star of his thrilling, beautifully crafted 2013 car racing film, Rush.

Adapted to the screen by writer Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond), In the Heart of the Sea tells a story of obsession and survival amid the high seas, as recounted three decades later via a fictional interview with Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw, also seen in the recent Suffragette) and one of the voyage's last living survivors, Tom Nickerson, (Brenden Gleeson) who was left mentally and emotionally scarred by his horrific ordeal.  Melville believes if he can convince the tormented man in need of confession to discuss his memories, he might have the makings of his next novel, a work of fiction inspired by truth.

Nickerson reluctantly agrees to open up.  As relayed in flashbacks, Nickerson was a 14 year old orphan (portrayed by Tom Holland, The Impossible) when he came aboard as a cabin boy as part of the ill fated whaling crew that was sent on an expedition to hunt down whales for their oil. Before oil was discovered in the ground, there was a time when the prime source of energy was whale oil and there was a global demand for this high priced commodity. To that end, the Essex crew is sent sailing with no clue as to what horrors they would soon endure. All that was on their mind was completing their mission with a hefty payload and returning home as quickly as possible.

Although, he was promised the position of Captain on his next voyage, Owen Chase (Hemsworth) the strapping, experienced whaler, with a loving, pregnant wife back home, finds himself relegated to serving as first mate under the inexperienced George Pollard, Jr. (Benjamin Walker) who comes from of a powerful and wealthy New England family.  That sets the stage for a series of conflicts between Chase, who is unhappy that, in spite of his qualifications, was passed over for the privileged Pollard, assigned as his superior.  However, butting heads proves to be the least of their troubles, after they encounter the great “demon” whale, described as “white as alabaster and hundred feet long”.  Soon they discover they have messed with the wrong dude. Mad as hell that man has once again encroached on his territory, with the scars to prove it, the whale attacks and destroys their ship leaving the survivors marooned at sea for three months, where they are forced to resort to drastic measures in order to  stay alive.

In The Heart of the Sea is a great looking film, containing beautifully rendered, believable CGI effects, gorgeous cinematography, strong performances (in spite of unconvincing New England accents) and aptly displayed themes of morality, obsession, vengeance and greed. Yet, there are flaws in the narrative that keeps this film from being as engaging, compelling or great as it should be. For one thing, although the recollections of the tragic voyage are supposed to be from Nickerson's point of view, instead the series of events are shown from the perspective of the ship's first mate, Owen Chase.  According to this depiction, Nickerson wasn't there to experience some of the events, so the question arises how he knew about them. Plus, if Nickerson was only fourteen at the time of the voyage, that would have made him only forty four years old thirty years later, but the elder adult is depicted clearly in his 60's or more.

Ron Howard has built a reputation for being a masterful storyteller and while this fact based sea drama doesn't sink nor ride the wave of his more solid, greater films, this time he just misses the boat.

Footnote:  Tom Nickerson was 77 when he died; Owen Chase was 71,  and George Pollard Jr. lived to the ripe old age of 91.

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