The media kit for "The Perfect Storm" begins with a special request that
reads, "Warner Brothers Pictures would appreciate the press' cooperation
in not revealing the ending of this film to their readers, viewers or
listeners." Fair enough, but for this to work, everyone needs to do his
or her part. So, if you are one of the millions who saw the news reports
of the event in 1991, or if you read Sebastian Junger's book on the
subject, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for over two
years, remember: Mum's the word.
I believe in revealing as little about a movie's plot as possible (and
will adhere to the WB guidelines in this review), but trying to hide the
facts about this widely reported news story strikes me as more than a
bit silly. Imagine the press kit for "Titanic" stating "Please don't
tell anyone the boat sank."
Incidentally, it appears that Warner Brothers forgot to make the same
request of their cast, because I've heard two actors spill the beans on
late night talk shows over the past week.
Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a major North Atlantic fishing port,
"The Perfect Storm" deals with those who make their livings from the sea
and focuses on a storm of almost indescribable ferocity, created when
three raging weather fronts collided. Pity the crew of the Andrea Gail,
a swordfishing boat that ventures hundreds of miles out in search of a
big catch. The storm hits full force just as their ice machine breaks
down, leaving the men with two choices: dump their lucrative boatload of
fish and venture even further out to sea in search of calm waters, or
try to salvage their income and pride by navigating through the worst
storm in recorded history.
Sitting in our comfy middle-class homes, the correct decision seems
painfully obvious. But as the film establishes during its opening 40
minutes, these people live an extremely challenging life that requires
risks to be taken on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, the screenplay fails to fully flesh out the men as
individuals. The extremely talented cast, led by George Clooney, Mark
Wahlberg and John C. Reilly, must deal with sketchily drawn characters.
The actors give it their all, but remain stereotypes rather than
realized individuals. The folks on the shore, including Mary Elizabeth
Mastrantonio and Diane Lane, have little more to do than cry, shout and
look worried. Credit must be given to Rusty Schwimmer, a large woman
with an incredibly expressive face. When crew member Bugsy (John Hawkes)
hits on her the night before the Gail sets off to sea, she recognizes
that his need goes beyond a quick lay. In a quietly touching scene, she
shows up dockside the next morning so that he won't be the only man
without anyone to see him off.
As for the storm, I found Wolfgang Petersen's direction so engrossing
that I failed to evaluate the quality of the special effects. The other
critics in attendance complained of numerous unconvincing images, but I
didnít notice. Several action set pieces are thrilling, particularly a
shark attack on the deck of the Gail, Captain Clooney's exploits while
trying to repair a broken mast, and the Coast Guard's amazing rescue
Speaking of the Coast Guard, a Discovery Channel documentary on the
storm identified the rescue crew by name and featured interviews with
them. "The Perfect Storm" would be a far more satisfying film had they
made those Coast Guard members as prominent, rather than using them as
anonymous supporting players. Unfortunately, to explain further, I would
have to violate the Warner Brothers request, but, after you see the
movie, I'm sure you'll know what I mean.
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott