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Perfect Storm, The

Reviewed By Wacoshade
Posted 07/26/00 09:45:40

"Knocks your block off, but lacks heart."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Damn, those waves are big!

There's my review.

Now, Scram!

Ok, not quite.

In The Perfect Storm, Wolfgang Peterson brings us the real-life 1991 story of a swordfish captain and crew who end up caught in one of the most severe storms the North Atlantic has seen in decades. Based on the bestselling journalistic recounting of the swordfish boat Andrea Gail's journey by -Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm is mostly mesmerizing, with staggering special effects from ILM, a reasonable (albeit occasionally over the top) score by James Horner, and fairly decent acting (with one exception mentioned in the next paragraph). It stars George Clooney as the ship's captain, with Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner as some of the crew, and Diane Lane as Wahlberg's love interest. The movie engages you in its characters, then manhandles you with its effects, but you may leave the theater wanting more.

The movie begins superbly, but, once the waves pick up, what else is there other than fabulous effects? A half-assed attempt at tear-jerking from Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Queen Miscast of Hollywood ever since Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves), some EXTREMELY cornball disaster cliché dialogue, a fascinating yet distracting rescue subplot, and George Clooney making serious faces…

So far, this is the "could've been" movie of the summer. Could've been a main Oscar contender for Best Picture, Director and even Actor (and may still be for effects, editing, sound, etc.), could've been the money making block buster of the year (although it's certainly pulled in an acceptable wad), could've been one of the best movies of the year or the past few years, could've been a movie filmgoers would talk about for years to come. Why don't I think it's quite any of these?

None of your damn business!

Just kidding. I'll tell you… For two dollars.

KID-ding! Let's relate it for a moment to another doomed ocean voyage flick with massive special effects, Titanic. Yeah okay, that one is a gag-fest, but even so… What made Titanic a huge winner, both with the box office and with the various annual awards?

Thousands of pubescent Leonardo fans?

Probably.

But really, there's more to Titanic than handsome leads goo-gooing over each other. As hammy and over the top as the romance between the DiCaprio and Winslet gets, their characters are fairly sharply defined and somewhat interesting. Titanic may be about the doomed voyage, but the movie is a really a romantic plot of young love, and the sinking of the ship is not the paramount point of the plot, but simply an experience this couple goes through. Hey, we all know the ship sank already, but the plot manages to create rich characters and then invite viewers to emotionally invest in the characters. When the ship was sinking, you knew that a majority of people on the boat would die, but you still could engender a hope that there would be a way out of it, certainly for the leads. While I don't consider Titanic a masterpiece nor one of my 20 favorite films, it is certainly a relatively good movie and worthy of some discussion.

Why doesn't The Perfect Storm quite live up to Titanic in my eyes? Aside from the romance between Wahlberg and Lane's characters, there is almost no texture to the people in the story after the movie reaches the halfway point. The movie changes from a story about fishermen into a story about a storm.

Now, Wolfgang Peterson is a senior action director to be respected. Hell, this guy gave us Das Boot, a submarine movie made 20 years ago that is a masterpiece in developing a complex ensemble of richly textured characters amid a setting that is both action and drama. In that movie, you are emotionally involved in the characters until the end of the movie, and you feel the claustrophobic nature of the sub and the terrifying boredom of the characters as if you were personally involved in these characters. Jonathan Mostow and Tony Scott only wish they could've made a submarine movie as half as good as this.

In The Perfect Storm, however, once the plot and weather got rough, I just didn't feel that Peterson did the same with these characters. The movie does begin favorably. Aside from the one black guy in the movie (who is completely flat and is there simply because there was one on the real life ship), every character begins strong and has some substantial aspect for us to become emotionally involved in, be it the economic hardship and desperation of Clooney's ship captain, the "always on hold" romance between Wahlberg and Lane, the broken family of Reilly, the klutzy puppy-dog friendliness of John Hawkes. Even the last minute crew addition of the moody loner played by Fichtner is interesting, especially in relation to the existing hostility between he and Reilly. These things are outlined, but once the boat starts tossing, all the characters seem to be disaster fodder, existing merely because someone has to die.

Although you see shades of a possible great performance from him, Clooney plays his role fairly one-sided as determined and anxious; a little more depth could've been better given the fact that the captain has two loving daughters that are barely mentioned (I think you have an Academy worthy performance in you somewhere, George, but you missed it here). Reilly hardly mentions his family later in the film, although we see them waiting anxiously a couple of times. The hostility between Reilly and Fichtner is interesting but never really explored and resolved a little hastily. Only with Walhberg and Lane's characters do you really feel a sense of loss by the movie's end, and even that is almost ruined by the most hokey conclusion possible. But, the way the film is constructed, characters don't really matter much in that last half of the movie.

And, then there's the rescue helicopter subplot. Extremely nail biting (including an extremely tense attempt at refueling a helicopter in mid-air), and there's no character development there at all, but there is an indirect connection between them and the crew of the Andrea Gail. It manages to distract me somewhat from the struggles of our main characters and is certainly as fascinating a part of the movie as the struggles of Clooney and crew; and in some sense, that's not a good thing for the overall story.

But, the effects are spellbinding and second to none. This movie definitely gives us something very few people have likely ever seen and survived, and you will be struck dumb in your seat for the last hour of the movie. The ocean is a watery vision of hell, with flames of salt water and demons of wind and lightning. When the crew struggles against the ocean and fights to stay alive, the action is breath-taking, and the direction during the storm may indeed be flawless. If you aren't on the edge of your seat when Clooney climbs onto a wildly flailing anchor crossbeam with an acetylene torch in his hand, it's time for you to phone home, 'cause you ain't human, and I'll happily rat you out to the Cigarette Smoking Man. This is a good movie, and worth seeing at a matinee price, but it could've been so much better.

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