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In the Heart of the Sea (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 121 minutes.

OK for children.

While this is a spellbinding tale of the story of the destruction of the whaling ship, Essex, in 1820, and while it uses the real names of the people involved, Captain “George Pollard, Jr. (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), the film has lots of Hollywood in it.

It pictures Pollard as a young, inexperienced kid and Chase as an experienced first mate. But in reality, Pollard was 29 years old and Chase only 23.

It also uses the conceit of having Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visiting an embittered Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson)  to have him tell the story of what happened to the Essex 30 years after the event. Nickerson was a 14 year old cabin boy on the Essex. According to director Ron Howard and apparently Nathaniel Philbrick’s book (which I have not read) upon which the movie is based, Nickerson had refused to discuss what happened with anyone, including his wife, before Melville persuades him to talk. In fact, though, Nickerson wrote an account of the tragedy, The Loss of the Ship "Essex" Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats, but it was lost and not published until 1984. Chase published an account of what happened, Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex four months after he returned to Nantucket in 1821, and it is that account upon which Melville based his novel.

Regardless of all these discrepancies, this is a terrific movie. It’s filled with tension, fine acting, and eye-popping cinematography. Although the latter is dark, it reflects the mood of the film. The whale, created through CGI, is disturbingly real.

Even better, though, it captures the brutality of whaling, that still goes on today courtesy of the cold-hearted Japanese who ignore all the international sanctions against it. These wonderful creatures were hunted almost to the point of extinction until the world came to its senses. They are making a comeback, but you can’t help but cringe when you see them attacked by these whalers. While watching this movie, I was rooting for the whale.