********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Ron Howard
Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland
“Call me Ishmael.” With these famous lines begins the story of one of the classic American novels Moby Dick. The story behind the origins of Moby Dick seems to be equally captivating. That is the tale which Ron Howard brings to us in In the Heart of the Sea, expertly portraying yet another story of human endurance, pitched this time against the biggest creature on Earth. While In the Heart of the Sea would rank below some of the great Howard films like A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 and even 2013’s Rush for me, it is more to do with the greatness of the other films rather than any mediocrity on the part of Howard’s latest. In the Heart of the Sea after all, with its visual brilliance and its edge-of-the-seat narrative, should be termed anything but mediocre.
In the Heart of the Sea opens with the author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) making a visit to the home of Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), hopeful of managing to learn the true story behind the sinking of the whaling ship ‘Essex’. Nickerson reluctantly narrates his adventure as a young lad (Tom Holland) on the ship that was led by Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who hardly ever saw eye-to-eye with the ship’s first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). From thereon, In the Heart of the Sea takes us aboard the ‘Essex’ when it sailed to the deep ends of the waters in search for whales and their oil, but instead found itself battling a monstrous creature and struggling for survival.
In the Heart of the Sea is based on the non-fiction piece of work by author Nathaniel Philbrick. The screenplay by Charles Leavitt is well-balanced between building personality traits of the men on board the ship and showing the thrill and action that they face at sea. Leavitt who is known for the screenplay of the wonderful movie Blood Diamond, has sort of redeemed himself with this film after the highly disappointing Seventh Son in 2014. Under the more seasoned hand of director Ron Howard, the script of Leavitt shines; it does have a bit of a lazy beginning, but once the ship is at sea, it is difficult to look at anything else. The story has its dark moments, a few that are particularly horrifying, something that we don’t usually associate with Howard, but they do have an impact.
Ron Howard pitches man against nature in In the Heart of the Sea and like always, brings out the many sides of human nature which make his movies so special. In this film, it isn’t only human endurance and fortitude along with a willingness to survive that become the main theme, but also man’s greed and his blinded ambitions that more often than not bring his own doom. While Chris Hemsworth’s character is the protagonist, we cannot term him as the ‘hero’ of the film in the conventional sense. There are no good versus bad guys here; only a set of characters whose decisions would trigger a set of events which would go on to inspire one of the greatest books ever written. Ron Howard excels in keeping the characters attached to the audience despite providing grey shades to their personalities. The story of the ‘Essex’ might be worth listening to, but it becomes all the more memorable when a great story-teller like Ron Howard is in charge, and for that I feel fortunate. Mixed with his style of narration is the absolutely amazing visuals on display, which could even make you feel sea-sick! Academy award winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle was working with Ron Howard again after Rush, and he gets the vision of Howard on screen perfectly, visually enhancing the fears and dangers of the deep seas, and making his work worthy of an Oscar nomination in my opinion. The music by Spanish composer Roque Baños López is the final element that ties up everything together, leaving us with moments that easily resurface when we close our eyes.
The cast on the sets of In the Heart of the Sea is loaded with such talented actors that there was no question of any compliants about them. Chris Hemsworth had already proven with Rush the extent of hardwork he is willing to put in to showcase the depths of his talent. He has come a far way from being Marvel’s find, a point he proves once again here. He has what it takes to be a leader, his looks, his built, his voice, and his commanding presence, and that is all on ample display in his performance of Owen Chase in In the Heart of the Sea. He plays the part of a leader you would be willing to travel to the end of the world with, such is the charisma and aura he is able to generate in one of his best performances so far. Benjamin Walker’s character is supposed to be his antithesis in more ways than one on the ship, and Walker brings that out with a cocky uptight way of captaining the ship, but at the same time holds a certain goodness within him which makes it difficult to hate him. Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland hold their own, while the talks between Ben Whishaw and Brendon Gleeson bring a much needed diversion at times from the look of the never-ending seas.
In the Heart of the Sea is another Ron Howard movie that has a larger-than-life look to it. Just as Herman Melville is on the lookout of a great story, so does Howard seem to be searching for tales that would make his movies stand apart from the others. More often than not, he achieves that. In the Heart of the Sea bears little resemblance to Cast Away even though it looked to be the case before the movie’s release. It’s a story that takes time to warm up to, but once you do, it is irresistible. It is a Ron Howard film after all, and one does not miss a Ron Howard movie… ever!