Perfect Storm

Movie Review by Lisa Henshall

Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

This is the true-story of a group of sword-fisherman caught up in, what is described as, a ‘hundred year’ storm e.g. the kind that only come around once a century if you’re unlucky enough to experience it. The crew of the “Andrea Gail”, captained by Billy Tyne (George Clooney), decide to go out one more time at the end of the season, in order to recoup some of their losses and bring in enough money to last them until spring. They head out to the Grand Banks, an area of the North Atlantic renowned for sword-fishing, but located at the very edge of the map. When the crew eventually reach the area the fishing is plentiful and it becomes obvious the men will easily fill their quota and make enough money to survive another season.

Unfortunately, the freezer on board breaks down, and Tyne realises they must stop fishing immediately and return to shore, without their full catch. If they delay, then the fish they’ve already caught will defrost and rot before they reach Gloucester. In a twist of fate, three different storm fronts all collide off the coast of Massachusetts, directly blocking the Andrea Gail’s return path to Gloucester. The boat gets caught up in the storm, but Tyne is sure they can weather it as most of the crew are experienced fisherman. However, as the waves get higher and higher it becomes apparent that the storm is worse than originally anticipated. Its too late to take evasive action – the waves are too high to change course without the immediate danger of capsizing – so they have no alternative but to continue and hope they survive.

I left the cinema with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment after watching THE PERFECT STORM. However, after reading the novel by Sebastian Junger, I shouldn’t have expected anything else. The non-fiction book was a best-seller on release, but certainly doesn’t feel like potential Hollywood blockbuster material, and I can’t see what they were thinking of when they suggested its adaptation. The book is an incredibly detail-laden account of the experiences of a number of boats and rescue teams caught up in the violent storm in October 1991. However, with the choice of William D Wittliff as screenwriter (his most recent works being the ponderous LEGENDS OF THE FALL, and a number of made-for-TV films) the feature film was, possibly, doomed from the start.

The problem is that the film portrays the story of the Andrea Gail’s battle against the storm, as fact. In the book, Junger only speculates, through the use of experiences gathered from a number of sailors who’d survived previous violent storms. The film, on the other hand, tries to retain a feeling of an action/adventure that happens to be a true story. However, no-one seems to want to hurt any of the surviving families by saying anything critical about those involved, so the characters lack depth and come across as somewhat two-dimensional. The only exception being Sully (William Fichtner) who on screen is portrayed as a wild card, whose never fished before and appears to have a psychotic hatred for Murph (John C Reilly). However, in the book he is described as a very experienced ex-fisherman who had been Billy Tyne’s captain in the past, on at least one occasion had saved the lives of his whole crew, and there is no suggestion of antagonism between him and any of the crew on the Andrea Gail.

The storm itself looks fantastic – especially the 70ft high waves – and there are some small moments of empathy with the characters on board, and those left on shore. In addition, for those who are squeamish you’ll be pleased to know that the realistic swordfish, caught and gutted during the story, are all fake – carefully created by the animation team. The actors are well chosen, but there is little they can do with the script and the film feels flat and unemotional most of the time, lacking the necessary tension. In the end, the film, like the book it’s adapted from, feels like a “911 Emergency” style TV show with the addition of some impressive special effects. Warner Bros would have been better creating a movie about a fictional storm and crew, that way the characters could have been more interesting (without hurting anyone’s feelings), and Petersen could have given the film the much needed pace that the special effects so richly deserve.

3 out of 6 stars

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