In the Heart of the Sea (2015) – reviewed by George

Directed by Ron Howard, Screenplay by Charles Leavitt, Story by Charles Leavitt and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, and Based on the Book “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick, the movie tells the story of how Herman Melville came to write “Moby Dick”, and of the tragedy that inspired it. Melville (Ben Whishaw) had read some documentation about the Essex and had become fascinated by it. He saw it as his next novel, but needed more information. He discovered a lone survivor, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), and wrote for an interview, for which he proposed to pay. Welcomed with some reluctance by Nickerson, but with relief by Mrs. Nickerson (Michelle Fairley), Melville sat down to hear the tale.
Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a First Mate, has been promised by the whaling firm for which he works that he will captain his next voyage. Instead he finds that he is to remain First Mate, in order to serve and support an inexperienced captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Pollard comes from a whaling family, but has little or no actual experience on a whaleship. The important fact is that his family has heavily invested in the company.
Chase is furious, but comes around. The voyage begins smoothly, but after Nantucket is far behind and still no significant number of whales has been seen, Pollard orders the ship around the Cape to the Pacific. Still nothing until they are approximately 1000 leagues from South America, where they find hordes of whales, and one of them, the one they subsequently refer to as the white whale, attacks a longboat, then dives and flips its tail at the boat, showering it with gallons of salt water. Rather than being an albino whale, the animal appears to have some major mottling, which could be either genetic or a fungus disease.
By the time the film had progressed this far, my sympathies had shifted to Captain Pollard, who was clearly no Ahab. Chase was still grudging toward the man, who obviously needed counsel, but had a good brain and a strong desire to learn. I thought he definitely wanted to captain again, and for that to happen this voyage simply had to be successful.
The tragedy of the Essex continues to develop, and back in Nantucket it results in an examination by a naval board. The survivors include both Chase and Pollard, and of course Nickerson, who was a 14-year-old cabin boy at the time of departure, years before (young Nickerson is played by Tom Holland). Chase is ordered to lie at the hearing, and we barrel into a finale, where Melville tells Nickerson that his version of the tale will be fiction.
As Melville leaves, Nickerson asks if he has heard of the recent discovery in Pennsylvania of oil in the ground. I found that very sad; it just seemed like blindness – anther form of taking from nature that which can never be replaced, and then moving on to another method of despoiling. I had a teacher in high school who warned that oil reserves would be depleted and that we would have to shift to something else. Perhaps unfortunately in this country that something else has turned out to be fracking. We shall see.
This is a good film with a lot to be amazed by (the CGI is fantastic), and a lot of emotion to feel. Kudos to Roque Banos for his fine musical score. Other actors I recognized: Cillian Murphy plays one of the crew, Matthew Joy, and Charlotte Riley plays Mrs. Chase, pregnant when Owen leaves, accompanied by a two-year-old when he returns.
Filmed at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, England, and at La Gomera and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, this is recommended viewing.

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