The film begins with an author named Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) approaching a man named Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last known survivor of the Essex, a ship that was attacked by a whale when Thomas was just a teenager. Thomas has never spoken of these events to anyone, not even his wife (Michelle Fairley), but a bargain is struck and Thomas recounts his experience on the Essex for the sake of Herman's book, which he intents to call 'Moby Dick.' It's the tale of a sailor named Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and his captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as they go out with the intention of hunting whales for oil, but are left stranded and "on the edge of sanity" in what ends up being a tragic tale of survival with deadly consequences.
Adding to these wonderful visuals is the cinematography. The cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, is a frequent collaborator with Danny Boyle, his filmography including 127 hours and Slumdog Millionaire, but more recently, Mantle teamed up with Ron Howard for an underrated movie called Rush. The camera work in that movie is mind blowingly good, and with In the Heart of the Sea, his second collaboration with Howard, it's just as visceral. He captures the beauty of this scenario, as well as the terror. Mantle is yet to disappoint.
While the plot does revolve around this beast of a whale, the film is a tale of a group of men being put into a situation that most people won't live through. They know that and so it's up to them to figure out a way to survive. The whale isn't the main plot of this movie. In fact, the whale doesn't even show up until almost an hour in. This does make the first half drag, but it also allows for further development of these characters. There's more time put into their backstory and their lives. The film establishes who's who and where their power lays and when disaster strikes, this development creates tension. I wanted these characters to survive. Well, some of the time, anyway. There were other times where I was rooting for the whale....
To sum up, In the Heart of the Sea is a slow paced, but worthwhile experience. It's visceral and exciting, but also rather draining and not very rewatchable. The release date change may kill this movie, especially with Star Wars on the horizon, but it's a good film nonetheless.