THE PERFECT STORM - June 2000
Release Date: June 30, 2000 Nationwide.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and scenes of peril.
Distributor: Warner Brothers
The Perfect Storm - George Clooney
As a natural disaster movie, The Perfect Storm creates the kind of frightening realism few movies have achieved. The spectacle of the huge storm tossing all sizes of boats in rolling seas and howling winds was marvelously recreated. We happened to view the film with a friend who recently sold a sail boat much like the one in the film. Having experienced the fury of real weather, she was in terror, grabbing us and covering her eyes in moans and gasps. As nausea, exhaustion, and incapacitating hopelessness set in, we were in awe of the experience that felt in every way like really being there. We can only hope that seeing the movie is as close as we’ll ever get to such natural fury.
Despite the immense spectacle, though, Perfect Storm suffers from the eternal conflict between remaining faithful to true events and crafting a great story. Usually, true stories are not sufficient for a profound cinematic experience because they lack the emotional subtext of well-developed characters. This movie, unfortunately feels woefully flat as soon as the action is diverted from the storm. In addition, we are really guessing at what happened to the ship Andrea Gail. We know she is fated to sink, but with no survivors and no trace of the boat, we have no idea what happened during her last hours.
And so, the film was a marvelous recreation of the thrill, much like a great theme park ride, but in the end left us empty. A few weak attempts are made to conjure up circumstances that would have led men to steam into such a monstrous storm; a confluence of three weather systems that turned a huge section of the Atlantic into a death trap. The crew of Andrea Gail may have felt pressured to save the $200,000 worth of swordfish. They may have been unaware of the storm because of the broken radio, and they may have been egged by their sense of macho misadventure to prove their worth on a boat that was far from perfectly maintained.
But then, the bottom line is that there will always be dangerous jobs. Fishing the stormy but bountiful North Atlantic is only one untamed frontier, which draws those whose sense of risk and adventure is a stronger lure than their sense of safety and comfort. The crew was a mish-mash of somewhat loveable misfits who argued and fretted over their cramped quarters and bad luck. The fish and the chemistry of bonding and dissension seemed to prompt risks seeking greater rewards.
An interesting twist, and one supported by reality, is that Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the Captain of a sister ship in a safer location, had great skills and luck as a fisherwoman and boat and crew leader, as well as the prudence to judge and advise. She tried to warn Billy (Clooney), but he sloughed her off with understated bravado and seemingly welcome flirtations and sexual innuendo. In a refreshing role advancement, this competent woman sought her perfection in a profession traditionally dominated by men.
The supporting roles feature some of our favorites, including John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, and Mark Wahlberg. They played crewmates with strengths and weaknesses sufficient to make us sympathize their deaths. Though the Coast Guard Helicopter and Cutter crews were heroically brave, we wondered if losing lives of rescue workers is too high a price to pay for those who knowingly take high risks.
The Perfect Storm - giant wave
If you choose to ponder such dilemmas not really well dealt with in the movie’s short two hours, you may want to send us your thoughts for discussion in an AfterGlow. But then again, you may choose to buy your ticket to this gut churner for the experience of the thrill, the terror, and the sadness of The Perfect Storm.
Also Known As:
The Perfect Storm - Andrea Gail
The first fifteen minutes give us a crash course in the lives of Gloucester fishermen. They're not permanent employees, but hired on a per trip basis. The owner of the boat takes half the net profits, the boat's captain takes a double share from the remaining half, and each crew member gets a single share. No one's getting rich, and the average crew member is living from paycheck to paycheck, just hoping that the next excursion out to sea will yield enough fish to keep him out of bankruptcy. But for most, fishing is in their blood, and they couldn't imagine living any other life. I was hooked.
George Clooney, the captain of the swordfishing boat Andrea Gail, is thoroughly believable in his role. As are all his crewmates, particularly Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly. The entire atmosphere of the fishing town, in fact, seems (at least to an outsider) like the genuine article. Diane Lane plays Wahlberg's lover. Lane has actually been around quite a while, but she can still bounce down a flight of stairs with the best of 'em. (I've a sneaking suspicion that internet search engines have recently witnessed a barrage of "Diane Lane naked" requests.) They all routinely gather at the local bar and inn (The Crow's Nest), where down at one end of the bar sits an old gray-bearded salt slowly getting snockered - a reminder of what the future holds for all of them.
The events in the film are "based on a true story", which usually means little of anything is really the way it happened. For example, although you might infer from watching the film that the entire crew of the Andrea Gail are local Gloucestermen, in reality two lived in Gloucester, three (including the characters played by Clooney and Riley) were from Florida, and one was from New York City. And although I haven't read the book upon which the film was based, press reports from the period indicate the Andrea Gail had been fishing off the Grand Banks with its sister ship (helmed in the movie by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) when it decided to return home early and got caught in the storm. Not quite as dramatic as the film portrays it. Oh well.
Somewhere along the line, the filmmakers realized there wasn't enough in the main story to fill a two-hour movie, so they inserted "random" snippets of drama here and there. Some of these, like the scene where the crew encounters a shark, and when Clooney has to shimmy out on a boom with a cutting torch, seem pretty silly or at least overblown. Others, such as an attempted rescue of a sailboat caught in the 30-foot waves, hold your interest even if their dovetailing with the main story seems a bit forced.
The last 50 minutes are filled with lightning flashes, monstrous rolling waves, and driving wind and rain - basically water everywhere. The digital effects are impressive as director Wolfgang Petersen plays all sorts of tricks with using the constantly churning waves to manipulate the horizon in disorienting fashion. The overall effect is fascinating, and more than makes up for the film's shortcomings. And although some may cringe at the sentimental ending, it's easy to forgive the filmmakers for attempting to end on an upbeat note.
DIRECTED BY: Wolfgang Peterson
BASED ON THE BOOK BY: Sebastian Junger
MPAA RATING: PG-13 for language and scenes of peril.
RUNNING TIME: 129 Minutes
Petersen and screenwriter Bill Wittliff (TV’s "Lonesome Dove" mini-series and "Legends of the Fall") do a nice job depicting the life of modern day fishermen. The film was shot on location in Gloucester, which gives the production an authentic look and feel. Some movies attempt to portray working class life, but inadvertently come off as shallow and condescending. Check out "No Looking Back" to see what I mean. In that film, Lauren Holly plays a young woman schlepping her life away as a waitress in a greasy spoon. She’s coated in such a thick Hollywood veneer that you never fully accept her in the role. "The Perfect Storm" presents a blue-collar existence by having its actors do more than just chain-smoke and wear frayed blue jeans.
The oldest fishing port in the United States, Gloucester is the perfect setting for this story of hard-working, hard-drinking men and women toiling in a profitable — but unpredictable — profession. If they don’t bring in the fish, they don’t get paid. Clooney, Wahlberg ("Boogie Nights") and John C. Reilly ("For Love of the Game") leave the movie star baggage at home and give unpretentious performances. These guys aren’t superheroes. They’re just trying to pay the bills.
Out of sheer necessity, Tyne and his men set out on a desperate search for more fish even though the season is almost over. They battle boredom, the elements and sometimes each other during their time at sea. Empty nets push them farther and farther out. The fishermen are ultimately rewarded with a sizable catch, but run into a horrific storm on their way home.
While writing his international bestseller, The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger developed tremendous respect for the fishermen of Gloucester. With the success of the book, Sebastian wanted to give their children the kinds of opportunities he experienced growing up that made it possible for him to write The Perfect Storm. The hardships of the job, the skill and rugged commitment of those who make their living on the sea, inspired author Sebastian Junger to establish The Perfect Storm Foundation.
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New York Times article by Sebastian Junger
PARRY THOMAS HENRY SEAGRAVE JOHN COBB MALCOLM CAMPBELL DONALD CAMPBELL CRAIG BREEDLOVE KEN WARBY RICHARD NOBLE DON VESCO
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