In The Heart Of The Sea

That damn whale! Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) wrote the classic American novel Moby Dick. You may have read the book—or maybe skimmed the CliffsNotes—in high school.

Melville, it turns out, was inspired by a true-life story that occurred a few decades before he wrote his novel. In The Heart Of The Sea presents that story as told to Melville by Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) whose younger self (Tom Holland) joined the whaling crew of the Essex when he was just a teen.

Though old Tom keeps threatening to stop, the series of flashbacks continue. His wife (Michelle Fairley) urges him on, as does the eager note-taker Melville.

As In The Heart Of The Sea gets in gear, you know that the whale is going to wreak some major havoc. Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt concoct a slow buildup to the encounter with the enormous and violent sea mammal.

Nantucket is the heart of the whaling world two centuries ago. Hunky hero Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) expects to be named captain of his next expedition, but that honor goes to the less capable George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). At sea, first mate Chase disagrees with Pollard when the captain chooses to confront a storm head on, so as to give the crew experience. The outcome is not good.

The voyage of the Essex continues around South America and up the west coast to Ecuador. In a bar, the crew is told of a remote spot in the Pacific teeming with whales. They are also warned about a “demon whale.”

The confrontation with this huge, angry animal is intense. The effort to procure whale oil quickly becomes a mission of survival. The details of the crew’s recovery are some of old Tom’s more agonizing memories.

In The Heart Of The Sea is a well-constructed piece of storytelling. There is drama and conflict throughout. The visual depictions of life and catastrophe at sea are convincingly real, though not quite perfect.

The main thing that bothered me about ITHOTS was this: When he began the voyage around 1920, young Tom Nickerson was 14. Now, he is telling the story in 1850. In the movie, he appears to be much older than 44. (Gleeson is 60 but with his beard and weight looks older.)

In The Heart Of The Sea is a decent, though not great, film. With many solid films having been released recently and others due out in the next two weeks, if ITHOTS is not on your list of films you really want to see, I understand completely.


“The Raven”

Edgar Allan Poe was an enigmatic character who wrote some weird stuff. John Cusack brings him to life in “The Raven,” a movie that satisfies in so many ways.

Grisly murders are a Poe staple. In “The Raven,” when people begin to die in 1840’s Baltimore in crimes that resemble Poe stories, Poe becomes a suspect. In short order though, he becomes an aid to police as they try to solve this “whodunit.”

The literary references throughout the movie will make American Lit majors happy. Poe’s efforts to expose the serial killer via his writing original fictional material for the Baltimore newspaper lends more literary cred to the story.

Like gore? There’s plenty here to sicken and shock. But gore was a big part of Poe’s writing and the inconvenient truth is that gore is a big part of “The Raven.”

Despite a few moments of anger that bring to mind Nicolas Cage rants, John Cusack is excellent as Poe. He is a portrayed as a polarizing man whose work was embraced by the public whereas he, himself, was not particularly likeable. In “The Raven,” we see Poe as a bit of an arrogant jerk, but also as a vastly intelligent man with passion for his work and love for a woman.

Alice Eve is Poe’s girlfriend/fiancé and Brendan Gleeson plays her father, who detests Poe. Luke Evans is the police detective who initially suspects Poe and later solicits his input in solving the mystery.

“The Raven” was shot in Hungary and Serbia where well-preserved 19th century structures provide perfect settings for the film’s action. Any sunshine is filtered out of daytime exterior shots to maintain the dark and dreary look and mood of the film.

Though not a perfect film nor award-worthy, “The Raven” provides solid entertainment and a great performance by the likeable John Cusack. See it.