The movie is based on the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex, which in turn inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. This, in fact, forms the frame story of the movie: Herman Melville, played by Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, Spectre, Cloud Atlas), is interviewing a man named Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson- Calvary, The Guard, The Secret of Kells). Now an old man, as a boy Nickerson served as a crewman on the Essex. Although commanded by Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker, Flags of Our Fathers), the true leader of the crew is the first mate: Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth, Thor and Avengers). The Essex leaves Nantucket, Massachusetts in search of whales, but has no luck in the usual hunting grounds and so is forced to sail farther and farther out to sea. They finally find a rich hunting ground far into the Eastern Pacific Ocean, but while they’re hunting the Essex is attacked and sunk by a massive pale whale. Forced to abandon ship, Nickerson, Pollard, Chase, and the rest of the crew must make their way across thousands of miles across the endless ocean.
This film is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality. On the one hand, I was quite satisfied- if not absolutely blown away- by the film as a historical sea drama. The movie gets all the aspects of the time period right, including details about whaling and ships of the time period. At times it reminded me Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, another sailing movie which takes place in around the same historical period (1805 and 1820).
But, I know that most people aren’t going to see this movie because they enjoy the fact that the Essex’s construction and rigging we’re properly portrayed; they’re going to see it so they can watch the whale destroy it. Unfortunately, the amount of effort to make the film historically accurate was not vested in the film’s special effects, which looked fairly mediocre. Also, the total amount of screen time the whale gets is fairly limited, so people who go into the movie expecting lots of destruction will probably be disappointed.
And finally, the film is somewhat lacking in its final section where it becomes a survival movie. Although to be fair, there’s only so much you can do with survival, and specifically cast-away, movies. When you get right down to it, most of them are very similar- Cast Away, Unbreakable, Life of Pi, etc. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t better than others- some certainly are, and In the Heart of the Sea is not among the better ones. It’s not because it’s bad, exactly; it’s just a bit boring and predictable, with nothing to particularly distinguish it from the others.
So if you’re looking for a decent historical film or a classic sea-shanty type movie, than give In the Heart of the Sea a shot. But if you’re interested in it as survival film, or just in the scenes involving fighting the whale, than you can probably give this one a pass.