Film Commentary [7-2-00]
Desperate Men at Sea - - The Perfect Storm
Genre: Action/drama
Grade = A-

The Perfect Storm, the latest film by Wolfgang Petersen, director of Das Boot and Air Force One, is a rarity among modern film, a pure man against nature drama, and based on the true story of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, its captain Billy Tyne (George Cloony) and its crew (Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reiley, William Fichtner).

The film opens in late October, 1991, as the crew bring their catch of swordfish into port and the crew is reunited with their loved ones. However, Captain Tyne has had a run of bad luck fishing and this catch, as their past five catches have been, is small. Too small to satisfy him or his crew as they have meager paychecks to show for their work. They decide to go out for one more run to finish the fishing season. Tyne is determined to bring in a big haul and reestablish his reputation as a good captain and a great fisherman. The wives of the crew are not particularly excited about the idea as the seas in October are stormy and dangerous.

As the crew take off for the Grand Banks, fishing is not good, they decide to head for more lucrative waters in the far North Atlantic called the Flemish Gap. At the same time, a full blown hurricane develops in the mid-Atlantic and begins to move north toward a very low pressure system over the Grand Banks. On top of that, a massive cold front from Canada is churning east toward the both of them. As the TV meteorologist explains, the storms will feed energy into each other and create a massive storm that may appear merely once a century. The perfect storm. It is between the Andrea Gail and home.

After the crew finally filling their hold in the Flemish Gap, the ice machine on board breaks down. They now have a choice, head around the storm and loose the catch or head through the storm to make it home before the catch spoils. The crew votes to head straight home, unaware of how powerful the storm truly is. As they enter the storm swept North Atlantic, the film takes off with their struggle to survive. There are also exciting side stories involving the rescue of the crew of a sailboat caught in the storm by a Coast Guard helicopter.

While many action films promote themselves as having ‘nonstop action' this is the very first movie that I have seen that literally lives up to the idea. Once the Andrea Gail enters the hurricane tossed seas of the North Atlantic, the action simply continues for the entire last hour of the film. The violent sea action continues even as the film switches from scene to scene from the fishing boat, to the rescue helicopter and Coast Guard frigate to the scenes on shore as the storm pounds the mainland.

The film does have weaknesses, particularly in the first half hour that establishes the characters and their relationships with their women. It was just a bit too syrupy for my tastes. However, while other man against nature films in most recent years threw in a villain that the heroes must overcome as well, this film has only one villain, the sea. However, they do make a politically correct show by depicting the boat owner as a greedy profiteer who takes half the profit of the catch at the beginning of the film (because its "my boat," he smirks). What a cad.

George Clooney's performance was adequate and completely without his habitual know-it-all sneer. Mark Walhberg, with his week-old beard growth, actually manages to look and act like a regular person, rather than some prettyboy actor/underwear model. The supporting cast was great, especially John C. Reilly. The supporting female cast seemed to be mostly tacked on roles rather than, well, supporting.

One positive note is the manner in which the film portrays the main characters. The fishermen are shown as ordinary working guys who wear ordinary drab clothing, are unshaven and have dirty, sweat-stained ball caps on their heads. They are not portrayed as hicks or rubes as such people traditionally are in major Hollywood films, but as ordinary working folks. They may have a dirty job, but they're not stupid. They go to sea because it is their job, and their families have been putting fish on your table for centuries. The film also displayed the true heroism of the Coast Guard helicopter rescue crews. I was astounded when the diver leap from the helicopter into 30 foot seas to rescue people on the sailboat. Those guys really have balls the size of the Astrodome.

What makes this film is its incredible and highly stylized computer generated visual effects of the stormy seas. The waves are so massive that gigantic container ships are tossed around like toys. Scenes with the Andrea Gail pitted against fifty foot seas are energetic, raw and intense. A word of warning for the film's patrons, the tossing of the sea, ship and lurching of the camera may actually make some people seasick.

This movie possesses incredible cinematography and should be nominated for the Academy Award. It should also be one of those nominated for best picture. A great film of drama and suspense on the high seas that should be seen in the theater to appreciate the full effect of the film. The severity of the storm will probably be lost on small screen.

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