In a similar vein to the likes of Life of Pi or Unbroken, the immensity of the ocean has proven to be a worthy cinematic antagonist. In Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea – where screenwriter Charles Leavitt has chronicled the events that inspired Herman Melville’s seminal novel Moby Dick – the sheer serenity and seeming placidity of the sea is nothing but a guise for a cruel mistress that threatens the lives of our protagonists.
Melville (Ben Whishaw) is determined to write about the elusive set of events that took place on the Essex ship in 1820, and so decades later he sets off to convince the only man still alive to reveal the real story of the great whale attack. Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) is initially apprehensive, but with the support of his wife and with Melville promising to do this tale justice, he recounts the experiences he had, when just a young boy (portrayed by Tom Holland), joining Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) on the expedition. First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was also on board, as well as fishermen Mathhew Joy (Cillian Murphy) and Benjamin Lawrence (Joseph Mawle) amongst others, as they set off to hunt whales and gather copious barrels of oil in the process. But they could never have prepared for the great beast that torments their ship: a gloriously ginormous whale – and one which has a disturbing lust for vengeance.
Of course on paper the leading antagonist is the whale, but it’s by no means depicted as the villain of this feature. Howard blurs the the line between good and evil, and shoots the mammal with a certain degree of respect and graciousness. That’s not to say it’s not a frightening ordeal however, as this tense blockbuster makes for an immersive experience, and the 3D technology throws you into the heart of the sea – just as the title suggests – while the slow-burning nature of their weeks spent out in the middle of the ocean are painfully executed, as you feel that sense of anguish the protagonist’s are suffering from.
Howard has always been a brilliant storyteller, transporting his audiences to wherever he sees fit, and In the Heart of the Sea is no different. In many regards this tale feels akin to that of a previous offering from the filmmaker: Apollo 13. This is especially evident in the structure, in how we cast our eyes over this group of men preparing for their voyage, only to then set off into the vast wilderness to vie desperately for survival – and any such comparisons to a film such as that one can only ever be a positive thing.