Perfect Storm

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Lack of Substance and Character Sinks this Imperfect Storm!

Nov 25, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Special effect sequences are thrilling.

Cons:By the numbers disaster type film wasting a wealth of talent.

The special effects are quite good. They aren't utterly flawless, but they are impressive and it's likely you'll be quite so caught up in the various rescue attempts at the end of the film you won't much care if a slight digital tear is noticeable, or if a shot suddenly shifts perspective to cover up something that you shouldn't see.

The last hour of The Perfect Storm -- from an enjoyable fishing sequence, through the inevitable, predictable, mother of all storm sequences, is very good film-making indeed. It's unfortunate the first hour is such by the numbers, t.v. disaster movie of the week junk. The rather thinly drawn characters are quickly introduced with scenes owing a great debt of gratitude to Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Hemingway. On top of the cliche's the almost stock characters have been somewhat cleaned up to preserve a PG-13 rating. The film has got sort of an old fashioned feel to it. Too bad the film-makers didn't approach the material entirely from that direction and stylize it to be a lot like a film from the 1940's. They don't. They try to have it all ways and wind up serving us tired, over-played, predictable, and cliche'd scenes to introduce the main characters.

The fact these characters are played by actors who are capable of delivering good performances but aren't asked to try very hard to do so, only makes its worse. The Script isn't full of howlers, but it sure isn't very good either. It's no doubt one of those scripts by committee where dozens of hands fine tuned the thing until it was as slick, manipulative, and politically correct as possible although only Billy Wittliff gets final credit on the screenplay. He based the screenplay on the book by Sebastian Junger which centers around the fate of the Gloucester, Mass. Sword fishing boat, Andrea Gail, and its crew.

Since the film is based on a well known true story from a best-selling book, the film probably won't have any element of surprise which might cut way down on the suspense factor for you. I give a lot of credit to director Wolfgang Petersen, the films editor, composer James Horner, the production designer and the special effects crew for making the last sequences as thrilling and exciting as they are.

We meet the crew of the ship and some of their friends. There's the salty bitter Capt. Billy Tyne (George Clooney ) who's had a run of bad luck recently and is almost desperate to redeem himself with a large catch of fish. There's the veteran fisherman, Murph (John C. Reilly) who has a love/hate relationship with the sea. He also doesn't get along at all with fellow crewman, Sully (William Fichtner). We aren't sure why they are at each other throats except it might have something to do a former fishing trip or perhaps some old rivalry over Murph's wife. Murph has separate from his wife because of the hard fishing life he won't give up, and you see he loves his 9 or 10 year old son very very much. We know this because rather than get l-a-i-d, he prefers to play pool with his son in the local pub. There's Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) the new guy, who's just become addicted to the sea at the same time he's fallen in love with the girl of his dreams a divorced mom of two (Diane Lane). He's torn between his love of adventure and fishing and missing his woman. There's the dumb guy Bugsy (John Hawkes), who lacks social skills of any kind and serves as a source of much of the film's humor as he attempts to get l-a-i-d and then is befriended by a large woman in a supposed to be genuine way. We also have Alfred Pierre, (Allen Payne) a Jamaican who is fishing for the paycheck, but has been with the ‘Skip' for several fishing trips.

There's also fellow Captain Linda (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who likes Captain Billy Tyne and hints she'd like to be more than friends to him. It's another mostly thankless cardboard role for a very capable actress.

Let me make a quick mention of actor Michael Ironside, who plays the owner of the fish company the various ship captains sell their fish too. For years, this Canadian actor has made a career of wonderfully portraying some of the slimiest villains and unlikeable characters you've ever seen (you won't ever forget him from Scanners). He always seems to find a way to elevate even the dullest of stock characters into something, somewhat memorable.

The crew go out too far to go after their fish and when the ice machine breaks down they decide to try to fight their way back through the storm (they underestimate) so their huge catch of fish doesn't spoil and they make lots of money.

There's another group of folks who are literally inserted into the film. We don't know a thing about them except they are played by capable actors Cherry Jones, Bob Gunton and Karen Allen.. All we know is they are on a luxury sail boat and as we cut back to them on occasion we realize they will be caught in the big storm. Yes, there is a very exciting attempt rescue sequence involving these people, but it's an insult to these actors at how completely wasted their talents are playing special effect extras. They aren't even given enough screen time to develop cardboard Irwin Allen type caricatures.

Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly and George Clooney appear very comfortable with each other. They've paired up in various combination in films like Boogie Nights and The Three Kings. Unfortunately there really isn't much for them sink their teeth into, in terms of character, or
character driven development. This film turns an actual tragic event into a special effect extravaganza along the lines of the biggest budgeted Irwin Allen film ever made. I guess Irene who's was left on the shore waiting for Bugsy is the Shelley Winters of the film.

Yes, the last hour of the film manages to thrill and excite. The film-makers know their stuff which should come as no surprise because the director Wolfgang Petersen helmed the impressive near classic Das Boot (about the Germans in the submarine) almost 20 years ago.

I guess what bothers me most is that so many talented people were involved in this project, it's very disappointing they all signed on to what amounts to little more than a very expensive by the numbers disaster movie of the week. Everyone should have concentrated on making a good film, not just one with some thrilling special effects.

Chris Jarmick, Author (The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder Available end of December 2000)


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