The Perfect Storm

Anyone who lives near the ocean knows and understands its power and seduction. The sea is a mighty mistress, one who demands total respect. Cross her and she can be unrelenting in her ferociousness. Respect her, and she can open up the world to anyone willing to take advantage of her riches.

perfectstormThe fishermen in “The Perfect Storm” are in love with the sea. They may have wives and lovers back home standing on the dock of the bay, but their real passion is the sea. It not only provides them with a living, it empowers them. It makes them feel alive, giving them a connection between man and Mother Nature.

Mother Nature tries to severe that connection in “The Perfect Storm,” a film of awesome power and scope that sweeps you into an impossible situation and forces you to face your fears. Based on Sebastian Junger’s popular page-turner, “The Perfect Storm” pits man against one of the most unimaginable forces on the face of the earth. It’s the true story of the Andrea Gail, her crew of Gloucester, Massachusetts fishermen, and their struggle to survive a 1991 Halloween storm.

Screenwriter Bill Wittliff does an admirable job of bringing Junger’s book to the screen, fleshing out the story and relegating the technical talk to sound bites rather than whole passages. There’s also strength in Wolfgang Petersen’s claustrophobic direction, allowing us to get up close (but not so personal) with the characters.

As a critic, I want to fault the film for its sketchy character development, but I also understand audiences have come to see six men take on the storm of the century, not sit around and tell tall tales in a bar. Which is why Wittliff’s screenplay only gives us enough information to individualize the characters before sending them off on the adventure of a lifetime.

George Clooney is sturdy as Andrea Gail Captain Billy Tyne, facing a financial crisis if he can’t bring back one good load of swordfish. Clooney brings us into Tyne’s life, showing us a man forced to make tough, sometimes dumb, decisions out of desperation. He’s not alone.

It’s been a slow season, and the rest of Tyne’s crew are more than eager for one last shot at redemption. Mark Wahlberg is good as Bobby Shatford, a divorced man who has the lovely Christine Cotter (Diane Lane) waiting back at home for him. John C. Reilly brings depth to seasoned sailor Murph, still hurting from the separation from his wife and son, and newcomer David Sullivan (William Fichtner), who shows an instant dislike towards Murph. The crew also includes John Hawkes as lovelorn Bugsy and Allen Payne as Alfred Pierce, a Jamaican Lothario.

After introducing the men and their respective’s in a seaside dive named the Crow’s Nest (where the locals gather after a hard days work to get smashed), the men of the Andrea Gail set sail. Their destination is the Flemish Cap, a treacherous, remote area that is rich with swordfish. It’s a dream come true for Tyne and his men, who fill their boat with enough fish to pay the bills and then some.

The nightmare comes when their freezer breaks down, forcing the men to make a run for home before their cargo spoils. The broken freezer is the least of their worries. Brewing between the Andrea Gail and port are three storm systems, which are about to collide to create one of the most devastating storms in memory.

The director of “Air Force One” and “Das Boot” does an excellent job of creating a constant sense of foreboding, which pays off with one of the most breathtaking storm sequences ever created for film. This isn’t a wimpy Dino De Laurentiis “Hurricane” storm, but a full-blown maelstrom of towering waves, powerful winds and torrential rain. They all combine to create a digitally created monster that works overtime to engulf the characters.

Indeed, once the men of the Andrea Gail meet “The Perfect Storm,” the film becomes a white knuckle experience. The action scenes are constant and gripping, leaving you weak and exhausted. Thrown into the mix are a private yacht, a nerve-racking helicopter rescue (alone worth the price of admission), and plenty of concerned folks back on shore.

These include a concerned Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, a rival fishing captain who serves as the crew’s beacon of light; Rusty Schwimmer as the focus of Bugsy’s affections; and the always engaging Lane.

The filmmakers know that people came to see the wave, the one featured in the preview and at the end of the film. To that point, they move things along very nicely. Richard Francis-Bruce’s razor sharp editing is seamless, lending emphasis to every one of director of photography John Seale’s meticulously framed and lit shots. It’s a perfect marriage of image and editing.

The film sinks or swims on its special effects, and they are buoyant. Visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier and his staff do an impressive job of dropping us into the middle of the action. The blend of studio tank effects and digital enhancements is perfect. If you suffer from sea sickness, beware.

Petersen and Seale keep things nice and tight, so you always feel like something is going to explode. Wittliff’s script is extremely serviceable, providing just enough chit-chat and pre-storm close calls (including a fishing hook incident) to get the audience pumped up for the big payoff. When it comes, they won’t be disappointed. Except for stronger character development, “The Big Storm” provides the bang for the buck.

STORMY WEATHERHuman drama all wet in special effects maelstrom


George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, William Fichtner, Karen Allen, Bob Gunton, John C. Reilly in a film directed by Wolfgang Peterson. Rated PG-13. 128 Minutes.


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