Herman Melville shows up early in Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea, Hollywood's latest riff on Moby-Dick. Based on Nathaniel Philbrick's book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, the film aims to tell the true story that inspired Melville's novel. Here Melville is played by Ben Whishaw, who bribes grumpy old drunk Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), an Essex survivor, to tell his tale. So Nickerson grumbles, takes a shot, and we flash back to when he was a wide-eyed kid (Tom Holland) serving the Essex's scowly first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), and naive captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Pollard, an idiot, promptly steers the Essex directly into a squall, and things get shittier from there—particularly for Nickerson, who, along with Howard's camera, gets shoved inside a dead whale's reeking carcass to ladle out ambergris. That claustrophobic, stomach-churning sequence is the best part of In the Heart of the Sea—it has guts, literally and figuratively. The rest of the movie tries to do a bunch of things, none too well: On the surface, it exploits the familiarity of Moby-Dick, but instead of Ahab, Ishmael, and Queequeg, all it offers are stiff clichés. (121 min.).
Director: Ron Howard
Producer: Paula Weinstein, Joe Roth, Will Ward, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Bruce Berman, Steven Mnuchin, Sarah Bradshaw, Palak Patel, Erica Huggins and David Bergstein
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, Tom Holland, Paul Anderson, Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawle, Edward Ashley, Sam Keeley, Osy Ikhile, Gary Beadle, Jamie Sives, Morgan Chetcuti, Charlotte Riley, Nicholas Jones, Donald Sumpter, Richard Bremmer and Jordi Mollà