“It’s just a whale,” says Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) as what’s left of his crew is being attacked by a ghostly white monstrous sperm whale that’s determined to kill them all in the action thriller, In the Heart of the Sea.
In 1820, the New England whaling ship the Essex left to go whaling with a first-time Captain named George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) at the wheel along with his assigned first mate, Owen, who has many years under his belt working on whaling boats. The two men do not get along mostly due to their class distinction and because Owen had originally been promised to get his Captain’s license by the investors and owners of the ships. They had gone back on their word preferring to have someone like Pollard whose descendants come from a long line of sea captains.
It’s in the winter of their voyage that the Essex, which had sailed further than most whaling ships dare because it was desperate to make its fortune, is attacked by a gigantic lone whale that seems bent on their destruction. The damage to the ship is insurmountable and the Essex goes down, leaving the men to abandon ship and struggle to stay alive in three lifeboats. Facing storms, starvation, dehydration, and the deadly mammoth whale that follows their adrift boats, the crew struggle to survive while Captain Pollard searches for a direction in hopes of finding land. His first mate Owen senses the presence of the monster whale and strives to kill it.
Based on a true story and directed by Ron Howard, In the Heart of the Sea is a visually impressive film with stunning special effects and a frightening first attack by the monster whale. The best scenes in the film are, as expected, when the giant sperm whale is attacking the whalers and their ship.
The performances are adequate but fairly one-dimensional, and the negative dynamic between Captain Pollard and his first officer Owen Chase seems lifted from the classic film Mutiny on the Bounty. Unfortunately, in many ways In the Heart of the Sea feels like nothing more than a second rate Moby Dick meets Mutiny on the Bounty.
The one standout performance in the film is delivered by Brendan Gleeson who portrays Tom Nickerson, the surviving ship hand who was only a boy when the incident happened. Gleeson’s character tells the story of what really took place to struggling author Herman Melville, played by Ben Whishaw. The emotions Gleeson displays of his character’s disgust, sorrow, and self-loathing of everything the men had to do to try to survive is the only heart and soul the movie has and does help keep it from being just an average disaster/adventure film.
With first-rate special effects and a truly frightening monster whale hunting the sailors, In the Heart of the Sea is worth catching up on the big screen but at the matinee price.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material
Running Time: 121 minutes