In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
Directed by Ron Howard
Chris Hemsworth wraps up a 2015 of four wide-ranging movie roles with his best of the year in “In the Heart of the Sea.” After the bottom-of-the-barrel “Blackhat,” blockbuster “Avengers” sequel, and underperforming “Vacation” reboot, this “Moby-Dick” adaptation from director Ron Howard was bound to round out the year on a high note for the Aussie superstar. Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, a Nantucket whaler in the early 1800s sent out for a trip on the mighty Essex. But right off, Chase is disturbed by his demotion to first mate, under Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who got the job from his dad, an investor. The men take out a crew (including Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland) with orders to bring back 1,000 barrels of whale oil, which was used to fuel lights. But when they have little luck, they try going farther off shore, where they were told whales hide from hunters who tend to stick closer to land. But they were also warned about a 100-foot-long white whale who has capsized ships before. They take the risk, in hopes of getting their oil and getting back home. But when the vengeful whale takes out the Essex, the men are left struggling to find a way to get home…especially with the whale constantly in pursuit.
The story, from Charles Leavitt (“Blood Diamond”), and the team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Jurassic World”) is a brilliant narrative device that never promises a faithful adaptation of Herman Melville’s epic American novel. It adapts the story told in author Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 nonfiction book of the same name, but claims that it inspired Melville to write his classic. It’s an amalgamation of truth and fiction that creates a compelling and exhilarating film. As a non-swimmer who gets nauseous on the steadiest of pontoon boats, “In the Heart of the Sea” is a terrifying thriller that left me breathless more than a couple of times. Oscar-shortlisted visual effects turn small town England into 1800s Nantucket, Massachusetts. And the scenes aboard the ship are even more realistic. It was enough to fill me with gripping anxiety. In 3D, the effects are even more stunning and surreal, but the film doesn’t rely on tricks.
A cast with hardly an American among them struggle to convincingly portray a Massachusetts whaling crew. Hemsworth’s Australian accent is barely disguised. But still, he gives a great performance. Cillian Murphy plays what is likely the most respectable role of his career. And the young Tom Holland is superb as the frightened youngest crew member.
It’s not often that one of the year’s most visually captivating films is also just as narratively compelling, but you’ll find no shortage of enjoyment in “In the Heart of the Sea.”