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.