In the Heart of the Sea

Directed by Ron Howard

Starring Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Cillian Murphy, Chris Hemsworth, Jordi Molla, Benjamin Walker and Tom Holland
In UK Cinemas December 26th, 2015

by Haresh Patel

Spoiler alert – its a film about the whaling industry, and whales die, old school.

You’d think at his age he’d want a nice up of tea. This must have been grueling for him. Ron Howard’s career to date has covered every kind of garland and award you could get, and his work deserves it. From the sweet (Cocoon) to the cheeky (Grand Theft Auto) early days to the thrilling Apollo 13 and Rush, his capability in handling any format is an assuring influence on what you’re going to get. And let’s not wash over what you do get with a Ron Howard film. All the standard tropes are here presented in glorious Hi Def Three Dee: the Wounded Soul of the lead character, the Young Apprentice, the Arrogant Superior, the Loving Woman. Not only the classic characters but also in the story – The Epic Search, The Wrong Turn and our old friend The Point At Which You’d Realistically Expect Everyone To Die But In Movieworld A Miracle Happens. All these story points swell gloriously, but even though you’re being manipulated by the thunderous music and visuals, you’re happy to let wave after wave of glorious adventure soak you.

In the Heart of the Sea is the origins story for literary classic Moby Dick. Continuously referenced in subsequent popular work (I mean, Jean Luc Picard is Ahab in so many episodes of Star Trek TNG), it is a great sort of the struggle against the impossible.  And in this film, the impossible merges with the improbable, but mostly in an entirely fine way.

Visceral shots, editing and dramatic angles and close ups make for a muscular, hyper real experience much in the same way as Rush did. The sound design and mix is as unrelenting as the massive waves, and each thud and crash is felt with a complementary force, but unlike, say Transformers, it never feels overly macho, even though it is totally macho.

And now to the Whale. The days of buying into the scariness of a plastic mechanical shark are, possibly sadly, long gone. The film would have fallen apart if the whale was a hokey digital mess.  But it’s fabulous. Beautifully rendered and sympathetically acted whales and dolphins are presented in a naturalistic way most of the time, and the threat of an incomprehensible massive whale is done very effectively.  You certainly feel for the side of the whale in the inevitable death of one of them. The digital and practical effects are, well, you can smell the inside of a whale.

For all it’s macho cartoon “you weren’t there, man” posturing, In the Heart of the Sea plays very well as an origins story to a literary classic, and would sit comfortably beside Master And Commander, Jaws, Rush and Apollo 13 in your collection.

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