MOVIE REVIEW: In the Heart of the Sea

DRAMATIC TALE: Chris Hemsworth in a scene from the movie In the Heart of the Sea. Supplied by Warner Bros. Please credit photo to Jonathan Prime.
DRAMATIC TALE: Chris Hemsworth in a scene from the movie In the Heart of the Sea. Supplied by Warner Bros. Please credit photo to Jonathan Prime. Jonathan Prime

AS A director, Ron Howard has produced an impressive array of films from Splash and Willow to Apollo 13, Backdraft, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man.

But will his latest film join the list?

In the Heart of the Sea is certainly an impressive film visually and in the epic scale of its tragic story.

The film tells the real-life story of the crew of the Essex, a Nantucket-based whale ship which sank after an encounter with a sperm whale off the coast of South America in 1820.

It's a story you might not realise you're already familiar with, because it inspired Herman Melville's famous novel Moby Dick.

Howard's man-versus-nature drama is based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name which detailed the real-life trials of the crew left shipwrecked at sea for 90 days including their desperate resort to cannibalism.

Aussie Chris Hemsworth stars as first mate Owen Chase, an accomplished whaler whose ambitions ultimately get the better of him when he tries to spear a mammoth and seemingly vengeful whale.

His antagonistic relationship with blue-blood captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) is a bit predictable. Chase thinks he knows best but rules and tradition dictate his obedience to Pollard.

But it's Hemsworth's physical transformation as his character and his surviving crewmates slowly starve at sea that impresses.

The whale hunting scenes are quite stylized and while you know it's not a real whale up on the screen, the animation of these ocean battles is quite realistic.

There is this constant sense of foreboding throughout the first half of the film as we already know what's generally going to happen.

Howard goes back and forth between the film's present day as Melville (Ben Whishaw) tries to draw the full story out of the only remaining survivor Thomas Nickerson (a surly Brendan Gleeson) and the past events of the Essex's fateful final voyage.

I recommend not reading up on the story of the Essex in too much detail before seeing the film. The movie is in cinemas now.

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