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In The Heart Of The Sea – Review


Release Date: 11 December 2015 [USA]
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Charles Leavitt [Screenplay] - Charles Leavitt - Rick Jaffa - Amanda Silver [Story] - Nathaniel Philbrick [Novel]
Cast: Chris Hemsworth - Cillian Murphy - Brendan Gleeson - Benjamin Walker



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Posted December 28, 2015 by

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In The Heart of the Sea Review:

The struggle of man against nature has been one of the main conflicts mankind has faced ever since life began on the planet. It may well have begun as a simple struggle to survive but now, be it for business reasons, reasons of pride or a healthy combination of both, man is absolutely adamant they must be the masters of the world they live in. In previous centuries this also had a religious foundation to of course. In In The Heart Of The Sea, Captain Pollard makes this point by quoting The Bible to tell his first mate Owen Chase that they are “earthly kings whose business it is to circumnavigate the planet”. They “are built in Gods’ image” and so may do with the earth and the sea as they please. In The Heart Of The Sea is, in essence, the story of nature fighting back…

In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of The Essex, a whaling ship from Nantucket whose crew has to go through unimaginable hardship when the ship is sunk by a giant white whale. We are told the story through the eyes of Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson ) who is now the sole survivor of the crash and was, back then, a young deck hand. But, as Nickerson points out, this is mainly a story of men. Running all the way through the story of the Essex is the clash of personalities between Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) the arrogant son of an old shipping family who is determined to show his crew who’s boss and the first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) who resents being second in command to an inexperienced captain and whose pride simply will not let him take the back seat.

The film is a roaring success on many levels. It uses modern technology and classical storytelling to create a film that is both grand and very entertaining to watch. It has all the traits of a classic, old-fashioned yarn. It starts off drawing out a clear dialectic between the two main characters. Owen Chase, the man of the people who is stepped over by the greedy company bosses (portrayed in a way Dickens himself would have been proud of) versus Captain Pollard, a first time captain who comes with a sense of great entitlement and clearly with no idea of what it really takes to be the leader of a whaling ship. This is set up against the classic backdrop of The Essex that Chase runs like the kind of well-oiled machine that has inspired young men to abandon hearth and home to go to sea, partake of the camaraderie and the adventure that a life at sea has to offer. The whale hunting scenes are well choreographed, the face-off with the giant white whale is spectacular feet of special effects and the tale of the stranded men and what they had to go through to survive is legitimately hard to watch… The backdrop to this entire struggle is, of course the tale of Tom Nickerson who gets a chance to make peace with his demons and help struggling young writer Henry Melville write his first masterpiece Moby Dick. While a lot has been said about this part of the story clearly being fictional and a device to add an emotional layer to the story, it does not necessarily stand out or ruin the film we are watching.

So In the Heart of the Sea is, in fact, your typical mainstream film that combines high jinx, emotion and conflict to tell a highly embroidered version of a true story. In this sense, there is really nothing wrong with it per se. The problem with the film is that it does have, on multiple levels, the chance to be a bit more than that. One example is that while the conflict of man vs nature is, of course, the main conflict of the film – acting as the “common enemy” that forces our disparate band to come together – very little is actually said of the ethics of the matter. The single conversation I quoted earlier in this review clearly shows that this was a consideration as the film was made – but is almost never elaborated upon. It is quite clear that in this story pollard symbolizes the point of view of the big corporations blinded by pride and the fight to have personal gain while Chase is the real human being, instinctively understanding the true dynamics of what is going on. “You were born to do this job, I was just born into it”. Pollard says to Chase in a moment of clarity – and that just about sums it up. The film could easily have used the circumstances to underline this message, making it a main point, but with the exception of one very subtle moment (namely, SPOILER ALERT , the moment of “understanding” between Chase and the whale when he refuses to attack the whale whereupon the whale leaves them be and stops following them) it gets completely lost… Again, more could have been made of the clash of personalities between pollard and Chase. Come the finale of the film we cannot help but feeling an intense déjà vu as we watch pollard “learning his lesson” and coming around to Chase’s way of thinking. Classic Hollywood stuff of course – but it could have been so much more…

I can think of one single point in the defense of this last matter. This is an action and adventure film above and beyond anything else, yes. And yes, given that we are all very clear that this is a story (a story within a story no less) it could have been used to make a grander point be it ethical or psychological. But maybe that wasn’t quite what Ron Howard was aiming at. Maybe Howard was simply trying to tell a story – that just so happened to be rather grandiose and have extraordinary elements to it – in the most realistic way possible. Think about it. If you are rubbing up against your boss in your place of work grand showdowns are rare, it’s more common to simmer quietly (and quite pettily) over a long period of time and if – for whatever reason – peace is made, this doesn’t tend to be with fanfare, pomp and circumstance. Same can be said of the considerations of nature vs man. Yes it may occur to you once or twice, you might even have the odd conversation about it but would it really feature majorly in a world where survival depends on some of the most desperate acts man is capable of?

If the film can be accused of anything, it could well be of being a little too much on the fence. It may well have served it better to either go “all out” on the action and forgo any “serious” ponderings all together or add in much clearer character conflicts and a clearer outline of the greater conflict of man vs nature and make it less of a ripping yarn. As it stands, In the Heart of the Sea tries to be a bit of a rarity – a “realistic” action movie. And while you would have to go and watch it yourself if you want to see if it succeeds or not – you cannot deny that it is a very good two hours of entertainment…


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