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In the Heart of the Sea

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First, the good news: director Ron Howard does right by the whale in this story of the true story behind the greatest fish story of them all, Moby Dick. In contrast to nearly everything else — characters, action, themes — the massive marine mammal is presented clearly, potently, and without undue exaggeration. He is a bull protecting his herd, albeit to a degree as yet unheard of among those who harvest the sea’s bounty. Unfortunately, the film is largely composed of that other stuff: unnecessary exposition and narration, painfully on-point dialogue, jumbled activity on board the whaling ship Essex, overwrought considerations of morality, etc. Mind you, it gets better as it goes: the talk between haunted survivor Brendan Gleeson and curious author Ben Whishaw becomes genuine and intimate, and the conflict between the American dreamer first mate (Chris Hemsworth) and the bumbling aristocrat captain (Benjamin Walker) is overshadowed by their common enemy out there in the deep. But there’s a hollow at the heart of things, a strange decency and politeness for a film that strives to depict, in epic form, man’s dark and visceral struggle with the world and himself. (2015) — Matthew Lickona

Rated PG-13 | 2 hours, 1 minute
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