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Ron Howard’s ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ a Finely Crafted Tale of Obsession

Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate on the ill-fated whaler Essex. The ship inspired Moby Dick. (Photo: Studio)

Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate on the ill-fated whaler Essex. The ship inspired Moby Dick. (Photo: Studio)

Ron Howard’s movies are always beautifully made and beautifully told, with flawless photography and solid casting. His newest epic, “In The Heart Of The Sea,” scores on all counts. It tells the tale of Herman Melville and the journey that led him to write his epic 19th century novel “Moby Dick.”

Melville wrote the tale in 1851. It became a classic example of what’s called the “American Renaissance” in literature.

The story is about Ishmael, who sails with Captain Ahab on the whaling ship Pequod. Ahab is obsessed with revenge against Moby Dick, a white whale that destroyed his ship and severed his leg on an earlier voyage.

Howard’s movie is based on another book, “In The Heart Of The Sea: The tragedy of the Waleship Essex,” by Nathaniel Philbrick. It’s the true story of a whale ship that sunk in the Pacific in 1820 and inspired Melville’s novel.

In the movie, Melville, played by Ben Whisaw, travels to see Tom Nickerson, who was a teenage cabin boy on The Essex. He wants to learn the truth about the ship.

The seemingly cursed vessel was beset by tragedies before the whale destroyed it.

The survivor, terrifically portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, is racked with guilt and withdrawn because of what the crew had to do to survive. As he calls it, “the atrocities.”

Chris Hemworth toplines as Owen Chase, a whaling legend and first mate on The Essex.

After being denied his own ship, Chase teams up with Capt. George Pollard Jr., a strong Benjamin Walker. He’s the son of the owner of a shipping firm. Adversaries first, the two become friends and allies as they venture deep into uncharted waters.

They soon encounter a great white whale that uncannily attacks their ship.

Ron Howard has crafted a haunting movie about obsession, revenge and survival at sea. (Photo: Studio)

Ron Howard has crafted a haunting movie about obsession, revenge and survival at sea. (Photo: Studio)

After destroying The Essex, the whale actually trails the three smaller boats and what’s left of the crew including Chase and Pollard. Cillian Murphy, who plays Matthew Joy, the second mate, is also among the survivors.

Stranded at sea for 90 days, the remaining crew are finally rescued and return to their Nantucket home. An inquiry is quickly begun. The shipping firm wants both Chase and Pollard to lie and say the ship ran aground, so they can collect the insurance.

Chase will have none of it and storms out. When the actual court room scene unfolds, Pollard recounts the true story of what happened.

Howard is excellent at defining his characters and giving them time to shine. While I couldn’t stop from referencing Thor every time I saw Hemsworth, he is exceptionally good.

In these days of flying ant people and superheros, it’s hard to know where a movie like this fits in.

His movies may not be the blockbusters they used to be (“Splash,” “Cocoon,” “Apollo 13,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Frost/Nixon”), but I’ll watch a Ron Howard movie anytime.

“In the Heart of the Sea,” is terrifically executed. Howard has learned direction from the best and it shows. He’s a craftsman, and I, for one, appreciate his work.

The film is scheduled for release in the US on Dec 11.

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