Perfect Storm

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"I'll ride the wave, where it takes me!" - EV (+ DVD Review)

Nov 25, 2000 (Updated Dec 11, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Characters we care about / Fascinating, true, and emotional story / Simply put, a blockbuster done right!

Cons:Some distracting and overdone special effects / A few cheesy lines in the script

In a typical Hollywood summer season filled with action packed blockbusters and high-priced star power, Perfect Storm stands out as one of the few true winners. Torrential special effects drive much of the film, with the script taking a back seat, but the story is fascinating and, surprisingly, emotional enough to allow us to overlook the few flaws.

Wolfgang Peterson, acclaimed German director of Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, and Air Force One, knows how to intensify action packed films with likeable characters to please an audience. For Perfect Storm, the necessary material was readily available in Sebastian Junger's powerful book of the same name. Knowing that it is based on a true, heart wrenching story only makes it all the more compelling.

Unlike U-571, the other recent blockbuster set on the high sees, the crew of Perfect Storm's main ship, the Andrea Gail, is all well-established, each member thoroughly defined. This exposition being accomplished in the first 20 minutes of the film, we are given reasons to care strongly about each character at sea.

Swordfishing boat Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) is experiencing a long streak of bad luck. His catches have been very unsatisfactory lately, and his passionate devotion to his craft has long denied him much else of a life as he has had to remain fully dedicated. He and, especially, his crew are facing the consequences of their meager hauls in their pay checks. Tyne has a very friendly relationship that hints at romance with another local fishing boat captain, Linda (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio - Abyss, Color of Money, Scarface).

Tyne's crew for the upcoming trip consists of five very different men, but all of whom are defined by their love of the hunt. Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) is fairly new to the job, a rookie. At the dock, he leaves a beautiful girlfriend, Christina (Diane Lane - Murder at 1600), with whom he dreams of saving enough money from these trips to settle down in their own home and start a family. Dale Murphy (John C. Reilly - Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Hard Eight) is an old pro whose fishing life has taken him away from his wife and son whom he dearly loves. Mike, or "Bugsy," (John Hawkes) is the gruff member of the group who desires a good life and love outside of his work, but has not managed to get anything started. Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne - Jason's Lyric) is not as well defined, but he is clearly there with hopes of a good catch and paycheck. "Sully" (William Fichtner - Go) rounds out the crew as a last minute addition who also comes aboard in desperate need of the cash.

After briefly meeting these characters and learning of their perilous work and the difficulty of earning their keep based on the weight of each catch, we are immediately drawn to them. Rightfully so, this makes the danger we anticipate that they will face at see much more intense and emotional than if they had not been, individually, so well established.

After the exposition, the second Act of the film follows the Andrea Gail on its search for a big catch. Tyne is willing to go as far as it takes to score a big haul and return home successful. To make this haul, Tyne takes his men well beyond their normal territory, all the way to the Flemish Cap, where the fish are known to be plentiful, but the weather problematic. Though the voyage out there is extremely troublesome, with men overboard, shark attacks, and the like, the crew achieves success with a grand catch at the Cap.

They learn of a big storm brewing on the path back home, but avoiding it would mean their catch would spoil. After such success with their catch and insufficient knowledge of the storm, the decision to fight it is not a difficult one to make. Even if they knew just how enormous this storm would prove to be, you get the feeling these men would accept the challenge anyway.

Intercut with the Andrea Gail's story is that of a small sailboat already facing the storm's torrents. Although their captain of forty years is intent on riding it out, the two passengers are frightened to death. They manage to get the radio to work and soon a coast guard helicopter is on the way. Perfect Storm works wonderfully by giving us glimpses in to the dangerous lives lead by the fishermen, the coast guard, and any other boaters who may become trapped at sea during storms.

Back at the dock in Gloucester, the seafarer's friends and family sit around nervously in the bar, watching the Weather Channel, and learning of the magnitude of the storm to come. Three powerful fronts are all preparing to collide in what would prove to be one of the most powerful storms of the century. The Andrea Gail's radio antenna blows off early in the storm, so although they hear preliminary reports, they never come to realize just how vigorous it is until they are caught in the middle.

The third Act of the film is, of course, the storm, and the struggles of the Andrea Gail and the small sailboat against nature's ungodly fury. Since Perfect Storm is very much based on the actual events of the Andrea Gail, many critics are not concerned about giving away the ending. I urge you though to see the film before checking them out because its impact is much more powerful if you do not know what will happen to any of the men at sea.

In the past few years, George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg have emerged on the scene to become fine actors with commanding personas on screen. After failures in romantic comedies and the ultimate flop of Batman & Robin, Clooney has given excellent performances in Out of Sight, Three Kings, and now Perfect Storm. Respectively, rapper and underwear model Mark Wahlberg came into his own in Boogie Nights, and despite a few duds, has come on strong with Three Kings and now Perfect Storm. Obviously Clooney and Wahlberg work well together as now two years straight, together, they have delivered excellent action films. Though no supporting performances really stand out, they are all well done, and each character definitely adds to the film.

In the way of special effects, even though we know so much is computer generated, and sometimes it appears too obvious, the film is still successful. The spectacular waves were painstakingly created in an enormous tank specially built for the film. In the background though, we are always watching a completely computer generated storm, but we are too immersed in the story and the characters whose lives are at such risk for this knowledge to distract us.

Perfect Storm is a prime example of how action packed blockbusters should be made; the key elements being a captivating and emotional story, characters set up so that we care about them all, strong acting, and special effects that add to the story's power instead of being the focus of attention (i.e. Matrix). Though its script is fairly weak, Perfect Storm succeeds on so many other levels that it is hard not to love it. I can do nothing but highly recommend it as one of the best films so far of 2000.

9 out of 10.

Rated PG-13 for language and peril at sea

DVD Extras: Recent blockbusters (good and bad) have been getting excellent treatment on their respective DVD releases. Thankfully, Perfect Storm is no exception. Three audio commentaries highlight the disk. Unfortunately, none of the actors contributed to them, but we do get one from director Wolfgang Petersen, one from the book's author, Sebastian Junger, and another from visual effects artists Stefen Fangmeier and Helen Elswit. Also included is an excellent "HBO First-Look Special" that provides great insight into the filming of the storm scenes with fascinating behind the scenes footage. The "Witnesses to the Storm" featurette is also definitely worth a look as it includes interviews with people who had first-hand experience in this particular storm. The "Creating an Emotion" featurette provides insight into how the score was written and produced to capture all of the film's emotions. Also included is Conceptual Art with Commentary by Wolfgang Petersen, Storyboard Galleries, a "Your Forever" (theme music) Photo Montage, and standards of theatrical trailers and cast and crew filmographies. Note: The Perfect Storm DVD would make an excellent Christmas gift for all film lovers with a DVD player!

Recommend this product? Yes

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