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article imageReview: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ stays afloat via its visual drama Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 12, 2015 in Entertainment
‘In the Heart of the Sea’ is one part visual spectacle and one part human drama as director Ron Howard reconstructs the survivalist tale that inspired ‘Moby-Dick.’
There are different types of skill, some of which are inherent or inherited and others that are learned or improved via practice. However the idea that these should be judged differently or affect the quality of the product generated is absurd. If anything, those who are forced to work harder may be more humble about their talents than those for whom they came naturally. It’s this type of meaningless distinction that divides the main characters in In the Heart of the Sea.
Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was born to a farmer, but raised on the sea by a New England whaling family. In spite of his upbringing and experience, Chase is still considered less than the up-and-coming sons of traditional, native families. Thus when a captaincy position opens, it is awarded to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), a man who’s never sailed a mission simply because his family name carries weight. Meanwhile, Chase is once again resigned to the role of first mate with the promise that he will have the helm of the next voyage. But Pollard’s greenness and Chase’s determination seal the fate of the expedition when they decide to go up against the fabled white whale.
Rather than a recreation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, this film recounts the true story that inspired his tale of fiction as told by a surviving member of the Essex crew. In a single night fueled by whiskey, the now aged man (Brendan Gleeson) recounts his harrowing journey as a 14-year-old whaler on his first expedition in 1820. From catching and harvesting their first sperm whale after several months at sea to being stranded for 90 days after the ship capsizes, his story is related in great visual detail while occasionally cutting back to the late night discussion in the backroom of a boarding house as Melville (Ben Whishaw) takes notes.
A scene from  In the Heart of the Sea
A scene from 'In the Heart of the Sea'
Warner Bros. Pictures
An epic storm is the crew’s first test. The effects are mind-blowing as one can almost feel the wind and rain assaulting the ship. The tension between Chase and Pollard only enhances the violence of the scene as they all nearly parish due to their lack of respect for each other and the sea. Another action sequence involves the thrilling yet disturbing capture of a whale. The spotting of the school immediately charges the atmosphere and they set out in small row boats to do their jobs. Once again, the visual effects team takes audiences under the water to watch the whales interact with each other and react to their pursuers. The whole ordeal is gruesome, but executed as innocuously as possible as an obviously intrinsic part of the story.
Between the squall, the confrontation with the giant, vengeful whale, and being stranded thousands of miles from civilization, this movie can essentially be described as a combination of The Perfect Storm, Jaws and a less fanciful Life of Pi. The second half of the film deals entirely with their perilous survival at sea, coping with starvation, despair and the need to commit unthinkable acts to ensure their existence. It definitely takes on a lowered pace, but the human element of a story is where director Ron Howard always shines in capturing the emotion of any situation.
Hemsworth lost 33 lbs in four weeks for the role, becoming nearly unrecognizable as the same man who plays muscular superhero Thor. His commitment to the story is also evident in his portrayal of Chase, who is a leader in every respect and drives the narrative forward. Walker perfectly portrays Pollard’s snobbery as well as his humbling in the face of possible death. Cillian Murphy plays Chase’s best friend and shipmate. His character is not as well developed, but Murphy is competent in depicting the few complexities thrown his way. And Gleeson is one of the best storyteller’s to grace the screen and the ideal choice for this narrative role.
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson
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