Film review: In the Heart of the Sea is an eco-conscious whaling thriller
Difficult subject matter given sympathetic showing in Ron Howard’s drama
This story of the true-life sailing disaster which inspired parts of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is a text-book Hollywood adventure. Directed by the old-school genre filmmaker Ron Howard, it has action, drama and humanity in equal measure. Unexpectedly for a film about men who kill whales for a living, Howard even manages to deliver an ecological message about exploiting the earth’s natural resources.
Based on a detailed book by historian Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea follows Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), the first mate of a whaling ship that set sail from Nantucket Island in 1820. The first part of the film details the voyage, and how the ship was attacked and destroyed by an angry 25-metre sperm whale. The rest shows how Chase tried to get the surviving crew back to land, an epic tale of survival which included cannibalism.
Whaling is not an audience friendly subject in most countries, and viewers will rightly be rooting for the giant whale. But Howard works hard to show that the whalers were not cruel – they were simply underpaid ship-hands doing a miserable job. The prevailing thought amongst the Quaker whalers was that god had given them dominion over the earth, even if Chase is still given an eco-epiphany to soften him up for modern viewers.
The story is stolid at times, but the dynamic shots of the crew working the rigging and maintaining the boat look accurate and keep everything lively.
In the Heart of the Sea opens on December 3