IN 1820 the Nantucket whaling ship Essex sank in the western Pacific. Of its 21 crew, only eight eventually came home after 90 days adrift, bringing a tale of a giant sperm whale that battered the ship to splinters in what seemed vengeance against humans.
In 1851 Herman Melville published “Moby Dick” about the great white whale. The film takes a liberty with how Melville (Ben Whishaw) obtained his source material. It posits that Melville got it from Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who, at age 14, sailed in Essex as cabin boy (Tom Holland). Apparently, Nickerson did write the story some 55 years after the event; legend has it that his MS was lost until 1980.
Let’s not quibble about the verity of the film’s bookends. It’s what they embrace that counts. And that, in the hands of director Ron Howard using a screenplay by Charles Leavitt, comes across as a combination of excitement, beauty, nautical reminiscence in most respects convincing as to modern presence, courage, desperation and respectful authenticity. The whaling passages adequately reflect how it actually was before Svend Foyn invented the harpoon gun and sail gave way to steam then diesel powered catcher boats and factory ships. The depiction of the great whale is probable in every respect except for its length and its aggression toward humans. Sperm whales are not known to grow to more than 12 metres.
Chris Hemsworth gives a good performance as first mate Owen Chase, who expected to sail as master, downrated in favour of the martinet son of the company’s patron Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who made some unseamanlike sailing decisions.
At Palace Electric