The Perfect Storm

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Director:Wolfgang Petersen
Writer:Bill Wittliff
Warner Bros.; PG-13; 129 minutes
Cast:George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John Hawkes, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, Allen Payne, Diane Lane, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

You have to hand it to director Petersen and Warner Bros. for even attempting to bring this true-life disaster to film. For one, as most people know, not one crew member of the Andrea Gail, a 72–foot swordfishing boat out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, lived to tell about the harrowing, once-in-a-lifetime convergence of three hurricanes in the North Atlantic. (Sebastian Junger, who wrote the bestselling book about 1991's titular storm, imagined the last hours of the crew's life with compelling gravity.) And no matter how talented the folks at Industrial Light and Magic and how advanced the technology, it's virtually impossible to convey the full force of such a storm on screen. The skies are a blinding mix of driving rain, black clouds, and gusting winds that completely blur any visibility. In addition, the only way to accurately portray the size of the waves would be to shoot (or give the effect of shooting) from afar, thus rendering the boat an insignificant dot on the screen. So the result is a monotonous series of shots of the crew overwhelmed by gushes of water overpowering the boat from every direction. Sure, there are a few heart-stopping moments and a handful spectacular effects, but they don't live up to the hype. No need to worry that audiences won't appreciate the catastrophic effects of the storm, with James Horner's intrusive score and an awestruck weatherman who declares, “It would be a disaster of epic proportions! It would be the perfect storm!”

Equally arch are the personal melodramas, clearly hyperbolized to humanize the film. Bad blood between Reilly's Murph and Fichtner's Sully intensifies the tension on board, but their animosity is never explained. While Murph personifies the hardship of the profession and the personal toll it takes on the family, the tear-jerking scenes with his son are heavyhanded and out of place. And as if the storm itself was not enough of an obstacle, the filmmakers inserted virtually every mishap that could plague a long-liner into one trip. (The crew catches a shark, which takes a chunk out of a crew member's leg, another goes overboard after getting caught on a line.)

Wahlberg's Bobby Shatford, a blue-collar guy with bills to pay and long-term plans with his girlfriend (Lane), is spared the overwrought lines. Clooney's skipper Billy Tyne, who's desperate to end a dry spell, isn't so lucky. Before heading out on the October trip he says, “The Grand Banks aren't going to be so grand anymore,” promising the ship's owner that he'll return with a full load of fish.

To its credit, the film doesn't romanticize the fishing industry. It's perfectly clear that fishermen are of a tough breed, out to make an honest buck. These are working-class folks who stick together, on the boats and in the bars. The closing scene scans a wall in city hall that lists the 10,000 Gloucester men and women who've died at sea, trying to make an honest living.

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