These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.
Chris Hemsworth. Um… yeah, from initial standpoint, that’s all this movie had going for it as far as any desire to see it. I love how the story is… well, the story that inspired Moby Dick instead of adapting the actual book. Yeah, the movie looked good, and Ron Howard is a popular director (I’m personally not the biggest fan), but Hemsworth was my selling point. What can I say? I think he’s a fine actor. Anyway, off to the summary and review.
In support: Ben Whishaw (A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING , THE DANISH GIRL , PADDINGTON , and upcoming films PADDINGTON 2  and MARY POPPINS RETURNS ), Brendan Gleeson (ASSASSIN’S CREED , HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 , IN BRUGES , and the upcoming PADDINGTON 2), Benjamin Walker (THE CHOICE ), Tom Holland (THE LOST CITY OF Z , CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR , and upcoming films SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING  and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR), and Cillian Murphy (FREE FIRE , and the upcoming DUNKIRK )
Based on true events, the story is told via flashback. In 1850, future Moby Dick author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) who wants to know what happened to the whaling ship Essex and its crew. He approaches one the survivors of the ship, the reclusive Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). He begins to recount his experience aboard the Essex back in 1820, and the ship’s first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Owen, a loving husband and future father, wants to be the captain of his own ship, but those in big wigs tell him to be first mate on a ship captained by an inexperienced sailor with a wealthy family named George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Owen unhappily agrees, but the ship sets sail in search of whales for their profitable organs. Among the crew is the young Tom Nickerson (Tom Holland). As they set sail, whales seem to be pretty hard to find. After catching a tip from a rather grief-stricken sailor of legions of whales way out in the ocean, commenting about a “demon” that drove them away, Owen and George take the tip and go for it. As fate would have it, there are legions of whales around and the men of the Essex have a merry time catching them. But things turn sour as an unnaturally large white whale begins to attack the ship, effectively destroying the Essex and the men are stranded at sea. It’s the tale of how the crew went to desperate measures to survive, both against the fury of the open ocean and the wrath of an angry whale.
I liked it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent flick.
What do I like about it? Well, the movie is gorgeous. The practical sets are beautiful to look at. Chris Hemsworth is certainly as engaging an actor as he’s ever been. In fact, one of my favorite scenes with him is when the crew is getting a little cabin fever-ish and one of the crew holds a pistol up to Owen. Owen’s been a little too calm with the situation and the crewman demands that Owen admit that he’s scared. But Owen, never saying a single word, just looks at the guy and turns his back on him. He gives zero fucks as to what this man thinks or feels and just continues to focus on the job. I thought his performance in this one scene spoke so clear to what Owen was all about. The unspoken captain of the ship. The more we see Owen interact with the crew, the more we kind of start to get frustrated with the way Captain Pollard runs it. His inexperience is apparent and we wind up sympathizing more with Owen wanting to be the captain of his own ship.
However, while the movie does focus a lot on the great sets and Hemsworth’s performance, a lot of other areas are surprisingly lacking.
For one thing, the set up itself is… well, let me explain. Older Tom has never spoken about the events that transpired thirty years ago, not even to his wife. I have to assume that Melville isn’t the only reporter/story-seeker that’s tried to question him, and they’ve all been turned away. Well, here comes Melville and he just sort of… bribes. Less than five minutes later, the old coot sits down to tell his story. That was… easy. Seriously, no one else before him thought to do that? Bribe the owners of a struggling business? Kind of… a lame set up.
But that’s a knit-pick. Is there anything truly bad? Not really, but there are plenty of misleading elements, which can be a bit of a cheat depending on who you are. All of the advertisements make the movie out to be a little faster paced and will focus heavily on the Essex’s crew battling the white whale. Pretty sure the whale doesn’t make an appearance until AT LEAST forty-five minutes into the movie. Again, this isn’t a bad thing as the movie does spend time developing the core characters (except for Cillian Murphy’s character… I don’t even remember his role other than be the token awesome actor but isn’t actually given anything awesome to do). But if anyone says that the movie is slow, I can see where they’re coming from. They were probably expecting more of a rivalry between Owen and the whale. But that’s expecting an adaptation of Moby Dick rather than the story that INSPIRED the novel.
But now we get into the more sinful moments. Essentially, the film wants to show this film more of a survival story. Sarcastically, think of CAST AWAY meets JAWS. However, the survival aspects, while touched upon… that’s the problem right there. It’s only TOUCHED upon. No real delving into it or how it really affected everyone. I mean, Gleeson delivers a powerful performance when it comes to his reaction over resorting to cannibalism, but you don’t really see how it affects anyone else. It’s shown maybe once or twice. Is this an adventure story? A survivalist story? It stops being an adventure story as soon as the Essex goes down, and the survival story only has an accumulation of ten minutes out of two, two and a half hours worth of a movie.
I think another complaint I have is that the movie sort of ends. There’s no build up to the ending or anything. It’s just, “damn, we’re stranded, skinny, and unshaven. This sucks the big one. BAM! Randomly saved. Huzzah!!” Yeah, it seemed like a really rushed ending.
Final complaint, I think the more I see movies being told through flashback, it just saps out every ounce of tension. We know Tom is going to survive, and because the ending is so damn sudden, there’s no tension over whether or not Owen or the rest will survive. This is a real shame because the characters are so likable, but their struggles aren’t intense enough.
This movie has some serious imperfections, but as I am a fan of Hemsworth and the CG is phenomenal, but damn it’s just not enough to prevent it from being a very good movie.
A weak 3/5