Film Review: In the Heart of the Sea (USA, 2015)

In the Heart of the Sea is exactly as it sounds – a film centred on the perils for seamen and sea creatures alike.

Directed by award-winning director Ron Howard, the film is historically based on the whaling ship Essex and how real-life author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) became inspired to write the classic Moby Dick. Told in flashback, it portrays the supposedly true story through the eyes of the last survivor of the final voyage in 1820 of the Essex, Tom Nickerson (played by Brendan Gleeson), graphically detailing the whaling industry of the nineteenth century.

There are many familiar faces in this film, though most notable has to be Chris Hemsworth, who plays the first mate of the ship. While the acting was quite good across the board, the accents were definitely not up to scratch. If not for the overt mentions of place names and their roots in New England, it would be almost impossible to detect where on earth the ship’s crew were meant to be from.

This two-hour drama provides fast paced and engaging scenes in one moment, but drags in others. The fierce rivalry between Chase and the ship’s captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) is only superficially explained and takes up too much screen time than cared for. Full of masculine energy, the film portrays few female characters and the ones depicted are shown to be loving, supportive wives – nothing too gender-bending for this era.

Whales are the purpose in this adventure and one is even given its own character, the revenge seeking white whale that puts fear into the bones of all sailors. Human characteristics of anger as well as compassion are given, though unconvincingly since for the majority of the film it is portrayed as a monstrosity created by special effects. This being said, the only true sympathy we have in this story is for these whales, with man’s violence and destruction evidently being the cause for his own downfall.

Connecting the tale of Moby Dick with the film is a little tenuous. Sure, it’s a nice way to bookend the film and to give a couple brief moments of respite between segments of the intense tale, but there is little to render a strong connection between the audience and the characters of either Herman Melville or the elderly Tom Nickerson, who are essentially telling the tale.

The ending calls us to reflect on the damage humanity’s greed for oil has caused over the past centuries to our earth. This raises the question, is this the point? There is a sense of something missing and unfinished as we finish the tale without a great amount of closure for a lot of the key characters.

While lacking in many ways, the film will still be a crowd pleaser. With action, bestial creatures and manly protagonists with swords, In the Heart of the Sea holds up with its movie star cast and the drama of the ocean.


In the Heart of the Sea is in cinemas now


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