In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

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Critic Consensus: The admirably old-fashioned In the Heart of the Sea boasts thoughtful storytelling to match its visual panache, even if it can't claim the depth or epic sweep to which it so clearly aspires.

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In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. "In the Heart of the Sea" reveals the encounter's harrowing aftermath, as the ship's surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade, as their captain searches for direction on the open sea and his first mate still seeks to bring the great whale down. (C) Warner Bros

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Cast

Chris Hemsworth
as Owen Chase
Benjamin Walker
as Captain George Pollard
Cillian Murphy
as Second Mate Matthew Joy
Ben Whishaw
as Novelist Herman Melville
Brendan Gleeson
as Tom Nickerson (Age 30 Years)
Jordi Molla
as Captain of Ship Archimedes
Charlotte Riley
as Peggy Chase
Frank Dillane
as Henry Coffin
Paul Anderson (XVIII)
as Caleb Chappel
Michelle Fairley
as Mrs. Nickerson
Joseph Mawle
as Benjamin Lawrence
Donald Sumpter
as Paul Mason
Andrew Crayford
as Customs Officer
Gary Beadle
as William Bond
Edward Ashley
as Barzillai Ray
Osy Ikhile
as Richard Peterson
Sam Keeley
as Ramsdell
Nicholas Jones
as Pollard Senior
Richard Bremmer
as Benjamin Fuller
Nordin Aoures
as First Mate
Santi Lopez
as Second Mate
Harry Jardine
as Rescue Ship Lookout
Jamie Michie
as Rescue Ship Captain
Andy Wareham
as John Sanborn
Frans Huber
as Nye (Sailor)
Mark Southworth
as Francis Easton
Christopher Keegan
as Shareholder
Stephanie Jacob
as Tally Woman
Luca Tosi
as Wright
Martin Wilde
as Benjamin Gardner
Michael Cronin
as Quaker Prayer Leader
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Critic Reviews for In the Heart of the Sea

All Critics (229) | Top Critics (45)

Howard is a director who believes in strong, primary-colour storytelling, with plenty of uncomplicated emotion. Yet this story is oddly more subtle than you might think ...

Dec 17, 2015 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

The vintage grotesquerie of the regular old whaling process turns out to be more disturbing than the dark adventures that are In the Heart of the Sea's reason for being.

Dec 16, 2015

Warner Bros. would have been better off sticking with the film's original March release date and selling it as a horror movie.

Dec 14, 2015 | Rating: 1.5/4 | Full Review…

If you want a Ron Howard movie about a man obsessed with a creature from the deep, "In the Heart of the Sea," sadly, is not the place to start. Try "Splash."

Dec 14, 2015 | Full Review…

If a silent whale is your most magnetic screen presence, he should probably appear for more than a few minutes.

Dec 12, 2015 | Full Review…

There's a hollow at the heart of things, a strange decency and politeness for a film that strives to depict, in epic form, man's dark and visceral struggle with the world and himself.

Dec 11, 2015 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for In the Heart of the Sea

½

I hate when someone recounts a story in which he was not always present, but even if there is nothing like witnessing the sweet revenge of a beast (monster or victim?), this intense film of evocative visuals grows even more compelling when showing the lengths that people can go to survive a horrible ordeal.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

So Hemsworth seems to have a different accent from moment to moment -- and none of them sound like he's from Nantucket. So what?! No one other than Fairley seems to be able to pull the accent off very well. The score -- while very good, is derivative. The film has its problems. "In The Heart of The Sea" is nevertheless a very good film. The sets, costumes and effects are remarkable. The directing is strong, and although choppy at times, it spares the viewer from what easily could have been a long, slow slog had the director taken this film too seriously. It is, after all, a story about whalers sailing around the world and not catching anything for more than a year. A more "epic" approach almost certainly would have been very, very boring. I liked this film a good deal. If you're a fan of period films like I am, this is a worthwhile movie.

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer

If you're reading this review of this film there's a good chance you might've read a couple of the others out there. A consensus becomes apparent: here is the typical fish story about the big one that got away. There's several reasons put forward and now I'll add mine to the tumult. This one was lost in the editing room where I believe the music of the piece got away. The shots are there for all to see, Howard's made a classic, its still in there, but the work should be recut. As it is you've several powerful what might have been images to gape open-mouthed at ... until there's a Director's Cut released.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

½

In 1822, the men aboard the Essex, a whaling ship sailing from Nantucket, Massachusetts, encountered a beast unlike any they have ever seen. Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and his first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemworth), were at odds throughout the voyage, that is until they encountered a 100-foot long white whale. The creature destroyed the Essex, forcing the crew to drift at sea and hope to find land, but the whale follows them as well. Tom Nickerson (Tom Holland as a young man, Brendan Gleeson as the older version) recounts this traumatic survival tale to author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), who is desperate to write this true story. There's an old-school throwback vibe to In the Heart of the Sea with its high seas adventure, but there's just not enough attention to adventure, character, or even plot for this movie to really set sail properly. The first act feels so sluggishly long. It's trying to set up life on a whaling vessel in the early 19th century but I didn't feel like we got a coherent sense of life aboard the seas or how the various components worked. I didn't know that whalers row out from the main ship, so there's that. The opening act sets up the dull conflict between Chase and Pollard, which can be summarized as blunt upstart vs. unchecked privilege. The conflict doesn't evolve from this dichotomy. Both men are boring in their unyielding simplicity. Hemsworth (Avengers: Age of Ultron) made a stronger impression in Rush, but a humorless movie role is not in his best interests as an actor. When the action does arrive, it can be genuinely thrilling. Director Ron Howard does a slick job of conveying the danger and destruction of the whale attack. Sadly, it's over too soon and then the remainder of the movie is 45 minutes of a survival drama adrift in the ocean reminiscent of last year's Unbroken. This period of isolation forces the characters to make some hard choices, yet we don't feel the impact of those choices because the narrative, too, feels adrift. Implausibly, the giant whale has followed them for thousands of miles. Are whales really this vindictive? The documentary Blackfish makes me wonder but it still feels unbelievable. What was the whale waiting for? For the men's spirits to be completely broken before it might attack again? We're told this whale is a "demon" but who exactly are the bad guys in this story? I believe another stopping point for this story is that the culture has moved beyond the acceptance of whaling as an honorable profession, to the point that I, and I assume others, was on Team Whale after witnessing a bloody hunt. It's pretty gross, especially when they're harvesting the whale body for the precious oil. Perhaps modern audiences, so far removed from hunting as an essential component of life have become more squeamish, or perhaps modern audiences just recognize something as barbaric when they see it. As a result, it's hard to root for these guys. When the giant whale attacked it felt like retribution. My sympathies were more for the large mammal than the bipeds on ship. At the end of the film (some spoilers), the white-haired moneyed men of Big Whale Oil are worried what the truth will do to their industry. They want the surviving crewmen of the Essex to deny the existence of this gargantuan whale. This makes little sense to me other than awkwardly forcing a Big Business cover-up for relevancy. First off, whaling seems like a pretty unsafe working environment to begin with, especially considering voyages could last up to three years. Would the reality of one big bad whale destroy an industry? I doubt it since there is such money to be had. If anything it might rejuvenate the timber industry to reinforce the ships to make them more durable against larger whale attacks. At first I thought a framing device was entirely superfluous; why do we need to watch Melville elicit this tale rather than simply just watching the tale itself? It seemed like a distraction, but as the movie progressed I understood that this framing device was its own sub-story and had its own complexity, namely the older Tom coming clean to the decisions that still haunt his soul. It's an unburdening for both gentlemen, as Melville admits his deep fear that he is a mediocre writer (he's no Nathaniel Hawthorne) and that he will be unable to tell this story as well as it truly deserves. As these two men are allowing themselves to become more vulnerable and sharing their demons and doubts and worst fears, I started to realize that this framing device was weirdly more compelling than all the whale action. That's because older Tom and Melville are the best drawn characters in the movie, which seems like a screenwriting mistake of sizeable proportions. Obviously the nautical survival stuff should be the most compelling, and yet I as more taken with two men sitting by an oil lamp discussing their lives. Older Tom is infinitely more interesting than younger Tom; part of this is because young Tom hasn't experienced the full effect of the events that shape older Tom, but most of this is from the very clear fact that young Tom is kind of a mute witness in this movie. He rarely speaks and is just kind of there, taking up space. There's one personal harrowing moment when he's thrust inside a hollowed out whale carcass to extract more blubber, but that's the only personal perspective offered through young Tom. A question concerning the framing device: how is older Tom retelling events he had no participation or witness to? Another issue is that the characters on board the Essex are bereft of anything that would allow us to feel for them beyond simple human survival. Chase and Pollard are given one note to play and their eventual understanding and cooperation is fine but it feels like fleeting details in a story, lost to memory or disinterest. From a purely technical aspect, this is one of the better Howard films. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) is rich and often breath taking, with plenty of stunning aerial and underwater images. The whale attack sequence is harrowing and thrilling. Howard finds ways to imply the harsher aspects of this life without going overboard, maintaining that PG-13 rating. While the look of the film has an enhanced color palate thanks to the extra boost of CGI filters, I still appreciated the vibrancy of the on screen images. As I said with the similarly boosted Mad Max: Fury Road, I'd rather have vibrant and bright colors than a drab and washed-out color palate. Even as the movie drifts and the characters fail to grab you, at least the visuals are pretty. While sitting through the second half, I started to rethink my own prejudices concerning Howard as a filmmaker, a man who lacks a distinctive style but has a definite feel for how to tell a story. I'm not going to excuse him for The Grinch and other misfires, or his tendency to settle for maudlin in place of subtlety, but the man is a born filmmaker. In the Heart of the Sea is an old school movie that feels too sluggish, too underdeveloped, and too free of characters for the audience to invest in. When the framing device scores the biggest emotional pull, you better start rethinking your rip-roaring high-seas adventure. Master and Commander this is not. As the inspiration for Moby Dick, I wish I had just watched a remake of Melville's actual novel (now with extra chapters about rope!). If you ever wanted a movie that ends on a blurb by Nathaniel Hawthorne as a payoff for Melville's artistic neurosis, then your wait is over. In the Heart of the Sea feels like a whale of a tale that is hard to believe, which ends up inspiring a far greater story, which made me yearn for just watching that superior tale. Sometimes the "truth" behind famous stories is less interesting. Nate's Grade: C+

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

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