It’s no Moby Dick, but then, it isn’t trying to be, even if it’s based on one real incident that inspired Melville’s novel. Instead, director Ron Howard has made a solid, old-school man-versus-nature adventure that’s also about a dawning environmental awareness, if only in one man. The beginning of that spark in Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth)—first mate of the whaling ship Essex, which experienced the 1820 disaster chronicled here—is more than likely entirely fictional, but that’s fine. Howard makes you feel the power of the mighty ship as the wind snaps in her sails, and Chase and Capt. Pollard (Benjamin Walker) disagree over how to navigate, beginning a philosophical divide over whether humans are in charge of nature, or nature is in charge of herself. And while Heart is never unsympathetic to the ordeal the Essex survivors endure, it is never unsympathetic to the whale, either. A once-familiar historical story is retold in a way that commands us to respect nature for what it is in its own right, not for what it can do for us.
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