The latest entry in the ‘lost at sea’ genre has images more harrowing than anything you saw in Life of Pi or Unbroken. The sight of a boy being sent down the snout of a dead sperm whale to recover precious oil from its insides is just one of them. In the Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard’s film about the supposedly true story that inspired the literary classic Moby Dick, is a robust production that seldom lets up. 

 
Narrated entirely in flashbacks by Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the now grown-up cabin boy on board the doomed 1820 Nantucket whaling ship Essex, the film paints a vivid portrait of the crew’s struggle to survive repeated attacks by a giant sperm whale in the western Pacific. Howard employs CGI effectively to convey the sheer size of the beast and the damage from its impact. 
 
Cast as Owen Chase, the ship’s second in command, Chris Hemsworth displays an unmistakable star quality as he works to keep spirits up and tempers down. But this is a disaster movie, and it’s at its strongest when putting its characters through the wringer. Good luck trying not to flinch as you watch starving survivors, each a pale shadow of what they used to be, resort to desperate measures while stranded at sea for months on end with no supplies and no land in sight. 
 
Although less surefooted when the drama moves to land, the film benefits from brisk pacing, and from Howard’s skill at finding stories of human conflict in big spectacle productions. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for In the Heart of the Sea. It’s a horror story of a different kind.

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