Monday 7 December 2015

Film Review: In the Heart of the Sea

Ron Howard and Chris Hemsworth join forces once more for another period piece that is based on a true story; however, this time they're not racing cars but hunting whales for In the Heart of the Sea, an adaptation of the novel by the same name.

Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, an ambitious young whaler who is recruited as first mate on a year long voyage to the Pacific Ocean; under the command of the inexperienced and snooty Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker), Chase and the crew are tasked with hunting whales for their precious oily innards - except, upon arriving in a far-flung corner of the ocean they come under attack from a monstrous creature of the deep. Pursued across the open sea for months on end, Chase is soon consumed by his own hunger for exacting revenge on the gigantic sea beast.

Their infamous voyage is told from the perspective of a young sailor named Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland/Brendan Gleeson), who is recounting his version of the story to an eager young author, Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), 30 years down the track. Melville, as you may know, went on to adapt Nickerson's version of events into his iconic novel Moby Dick, giving this film an interesting extra layer - almost like a fable that has been lost to legend.

Howard is a director who knows how to craft atmosphere and rich aesthetic; whether it's the greasy pit garages of the Fuji Speedway in Rush or the cluttered desks of Houston Mission Command in Apollo 13. The waves crash and crunch against the ships, the spray thrust into the faces of Hemsworth and his crusty crew; Howard's direction, combined with Anthony Dod Mantle's luscious cinematography, place you on the perilous voyage along with the characters.

Hemsworth is no stranger to leading roles anymore and his performance in this film shows this; he steps to the forefront of the film with ease, commanding both the ship and the screen with authority. A spitting image for Edward Kenway were they ever to make an adaptation of Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, Hemsworth fills his character with all the required emotion, authority and ferocity it requires. The scenes he shares with onscreen wife Charlotte Riley piece together a sweet if a little generic 'wife waiting back home' subplot, but it's the tense dynamic between Chase and his superior, the idiotic Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) that gives this film some much needed human drama. 

Whishaw and Gleeson also do a superb job recounting the story over a candlelight bottle of whiskey; the foreknowledge that Nickerson survives his fateful journey doesn't diminish the impact of the action, of which there is plenty. Howard doesn't tread water when it comes to introducing us to the titanic whale; a brilliant action set piece in the middle third is genuinely thrilling and surprising. Howard does a fantastic job of giving the action a sense of scale as the beast bears down upon the Essex, the comparatively small whaling ship that Pollard captains. 

The final third doesn't keep the plot zipping along with quite as much vigour, and the finale is a little anticlimactic, but on the whole this is one cinema voyage worth leaving port for.

The Verdict: 8/10

Thankfully, this is one seafaring beast that certainly doesn't blow; the visuals are stunning, the action is gripping and Hemsworth is a confident and assured leading man once again.

In the Heart of the Sea is in cinemas across Australia now. It opens in the United States this Friday (December 11).

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