A word of caution in this review as there may be spoilers.
The latest film by Ron Howard proved an enticing premise with a dark and thought-provoking tale of the true story behind the whale-ship Essex. The reason this film appealed to me was due to the people involved like Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland and Brendan Gleeson, but perhaps mostly because the story of the film was created by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, who helmed the story of the planet of the apes reboot series that I adored. The story itself was also interesting in that I had never heard of an event like it, that to most would seem far-fetched, but was true.
Every year I assign myself three movies to look forward to most of all, this film being one of them, but I can't help but feel there could have been more to the movie itself. When it was previously announced that the film would be released in March 2015, it was an antagonizing matter of counting down the days at the start of the year, but this soon changed as the film was pushed back to December due to the approving fanbase and more than appealing trailer, and I can't say after finally seeing the film, that it was worth the wait.
Watching the film, it came to me as a bit flat. From the beginning up to the whale attack, there could have been more tension within the build-up, drawn from the rumours of an aggressive white whale with fear or concern in the eyes of the characters and that of the actors who played them, with a little spooky music and more scenes of rivalry between Captain Polland Jr(Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth).
When the whale appeared it was pretty spectacular to see a massive present-day animal in all its glory, and be in awe of the carnage it left behind, even more so that it continued to antagonize the crew after the attack on the Essex. However when it came to the stranding on the island, there could have been more emphasis on what the crew went through, there needed to be more of a psychological thriller, emphasizing the struggles and dilemmas that the crew were forced to endure, whether it would be death, distance to the nearest land, and the ominous threat of the whale that continued to stalk them.
I liked the chemistry between the characters of Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw, that saw the two characters deal with their own internal demons and the psychological implications of the story. This element that brought past and present together (from the story's point of view) worked well for the film overall.
I also liked how the crew of the Essex were conflicted to how they should or should not disclose their experiences , an interesting touch of conspiracy that I thought was chilling and should have been intensified and expanded on, especially perhaps at the start when witnesses first spotted the whale before the attack on the Essex, and the crew of the Essex would have discussed what this might mean for the whaling industry and how it would impact the survivors themselves in a hypothetical scenario.
Hence I score this film 6.8. An exciting premise and story, but not as thought provoking or nail-biting as I hoped.