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In the Heart of the Sea


Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Joseph Mawle, Ben Whishaw, Paul Anderson, Edward Ashley, Gary Beadle, Richard Bremmer, Frank Dillane, Michelle Fairley, Osy Ikhile, Sam Keeley, Jordi Molla, Charlotte Riley, Jamie Sives, Donald Sumpter

Director: Ron Howard

Woody Woodpecker and Tom and Jerry have engaged in close cinematic encounters with Moby Dick but, for most moviegoers, the Ray Bradbury-scripted, John Huston-directed 1956 film Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck as the giant white whale-obsessed Captain Ahab, is the most familiar screen version of Herman Melville’s classic novel.

Here Ron Howard (perhaps too good a director to qualify as an auteur since he makes movies that fit their subjects rather than to show off his craftsmanship) dramatically retells the true saga of the fate of the 19th century whaling ship Essex in 1820 which inspired Melville to write his novel.

For me, excellent casting, Charles Leavitt‘s strong screenplay (from on the book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick), superb special effects and Howard’s command of every scene made for a fascinating drama that I really enjoyed.

Although, sadly, he will probably always be best known as James Bond’s nerdy pal ‘Q’, Whishaw does well enough as aspirant author Melville whose interview with traumatized former whaler Brendan Gleeson (“His soul is in torment and in need of confession”), survivor of the terrifying destruction of the whaleship Essex, inspires his future novel.

The attack by the giant white whale, intensely created by fine special effects, make a vivid (but expected) highlight. But this scene is essentially a potent catalyst to a searing story of starvation, thirst and worst suffered by survivors of the Essex to stay alive in mid-ocean while the whale continues its onslaughts on a crew ultimately condemned to cannibalism…

Notably an increasingly gaunt Chris Hemsworth powerfully puts over the scarifying drama: it is to the considerable credit of cast and director that the human drama is never allowed to be overshadowed by mere movie magic.

Alan Frank

USA/Australia/Spain/UK/Canada 2015. UK Distributor: Warner. Technicolor.
122 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 17 Jan 2016