In the Heart of the Sea

Release Date: December 11, 2015
Review Date: December 12, 2015
Reviewer: Lauren Leath, Blake Leath
Genre(s): Drama, Action & Adventure, Biopic

What a fun and fascinating whale of a tale!

We've been looking forward to this one, but didn't know quite what to expect.

Fortunately, we were pleased at every turn.

We saw Ron Howard on Charlie Rose earlier this week where he spoke of how fascinating it was for him and Chris Hemsworth to first become immersed in Formula 1 racing for Rush, then whaling for In the Heart of the Sea. From Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Gung Ho, and Willow to Parenthood, Backdraft, Far and Away, Apollo 13, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, Rush, and now this, well, Howard's had a literally storied career.

He has commented that he was first inspired by the sea while watching Marlon Brando film 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty on the MGM lot during a lunch break when participating in his own The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Goodness, what a life Howard's had; the stories he could tell.

As for the one at hand, we love that it is a story within a story. The fact that it's about Herman Melville and how he arrived at Moby Dick was news to us. It's interesting to know more about Melville the man, about his feelings of insecurity and inferiority, particularly when comparing himself to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the literary lion of his day.

Did you know that, in his lifetime, Melville saw no more than $1,200 for his production of Moby Dick? It did not become a classic until long after his passing, and was derided by English and American critics alike, in part because it was first published without its epilogue, which ties it all together.

As for In the Heart of the Sea, it is least of all a "whale movie." It is, first and foremost, a story of loss, then redemption by purging the perceived abominations that have haunted a central character for decades. In the end, it becomes a story of finding one's path, of being true to oneself, of heroism, and of hope.

We agree that the acting was great, that there are no weak links. For the cinephiles among you, a little trivia: 

1. You'll recognize Ben Whishaw, who plays Melville, from his past two turns as "Q" (Bond's quartermaster).

2. Tom Holland, who portrays Tom Nickerson, is 2017's Peter Parker in the reboot of Spider-Man. He is splendid, and his fatigued, wheezy self is quite convincing.

3. If you struggle to place Paul Mason, portrayed by Donald Sumpter, he was Detective Morell in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson are exceptional.

We had visited The Museum of America and the Sea in Mystic, CT several years ago, where we first learned about New England whaling history and whale oil. Needless to say, though it was "sorta interesting," it was hardly the highlight of our trip! In the Heart of the Sea does a far superior job of animating the whaling industry. It's an intriguing, onerous, barbaric pursuit and, at times, a rather difficult one to watch.

We're uncertain about the age appropriateness for In the Heart of the Sea. It includes several bloody scenes, vomiting, violence, maritime destruction, gunplay, suicide, and more. Very limited language (4 or 5 bad words?); no intimate relations. Contextually, everything has its place and is never gratuitous, but we suspect it may rattle some young viewers. Ages 12 or 13 and up would probably be the wise end of appropriateness.  

Like Rush, In the Heart of the Sea won't win any Oscars, but it might be nominated for some CGI work. The entire film is, in Howard's words, "photo-realistic," imbued with a gorgeous blue tint throughout, and at no time does the whale or his comings and goings leap off the screen as a lame distraction. To the contrary, his realism is a strength of the film, even if, as mentioned, not particularly frequent.

Go or No?

We say Go.

It's a fun couple hours and, despite the sailors' dire and protracted circumstances, is over before you know it. I'm certain they would have wished the same could be said of them.