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Movie Night – 'Heart of the Sea' bold masterpiece (Dec. 23, 2015 issue)

It’s the age-old tale of man versus beast, and it never gets old. Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. Thor, is the star of “In the Heart of the Sea,” based upon the true story that led to the book and legend of Moby Dick.
The movie opens in the year 1850 with a young Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) visiting Tom Nickerson (played by Brendan Gleeson in 1850), a local innkeeper. Melville is on the trail of a story. At the time Melville was a fledgling writer trying to make a living doing what he loved. He had heard rumors about a voyage of the Essex, a whaling ship that was lost at sea in 1830, and could not rest until he heard the story from one of the ship’s last surviving sailors. Nickerson reluctantly tells Melville the story that he had never told a soul, not even his wife.
Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) had slowly worked his way up the pecking order in whaling ships in the early 1800s. By 1830 he had received a promise to captain the next whaling ship that set sail. Instead, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) was named captain of Essex due solely to the fact that he was a member of the right family with the right amount of money and despite the fact that he was an inexperienced sailor. Chase reluctantly accepts the position of first mate, along with a significant raise in salary.
Shortly after the Essex sets sail the crew and ship run into problems. A thunderstorm nearly capsizes the ship due to the inept commands and directions of Captain Pollard. After months of sailing they have very little to show for their efforts. They seek whales for their oil, which is used to supply light and heat to cities around the globe.
They eventually round Cape Horn for the Pacific Ocean and the hope of more whale sightings. In Ecuador they come upon a Spanish captain who tells them of whaling grounds off the known charts in the middle of the Pacific. However, they fail to heed his warning of the white monster that destroyed his ship.
The Essex soon finds the waters described by the Spaniard. There are whales as far as the eye can see. They also quickly find the white whale the Spaniard told them of, a beast of enormous size with an evil streak to match. Finding those whale-laden waters is the last thing many of the crew will ever do.
“In the Heart of the Sea” is a story about a whale and the battle between it and the crew of the Essex. But it’s also a story about adventure into the unknown and, mostly, about survival. Owen Chase and his comrades battle not only the great white beast, but nature itself. There seems to be no end to the challenges the crew faces.
If even half of the story told in the movie is true, Hemsworth plays a hero as much here as when he portrays Thor. As the men from the crew are faced with assaults from the weather, the whale, and each other it’s Hemsworth’s Owen Chase that they look to for guidance. There’s something in the way Hemsworth carries himself and speaks that make his characters natural leaders and innately good men. He radiates authority and trustworthiness even as his body withers away under the stress of being lost at sea.
“In the Heart of the Sea” is an epic tale in the truest sense. It’s a big, bold masterpiece of a blockbuster. For serious film buffs it’s a must-see and needs to be seen on the big screen to enjoy it to the fullest extent.
Grade: A-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material.