The Perfect Storm (2000)


(director: Wolfgang Petersen; screenwriter: Bill Wittliff/based on the book by Sebastian Junger; cinematographer: John Seale; editor: Richard Francis-Bruce; cast: George Clooney (Capt. Billy Tyne), Mark Wahlberg (Bobby Shatford), Diane Lane (Christina Cotter), William Fichtner (Sully), Karen Allen (Melissa Brown), Allen Payne (Alfred Pierre), Bob Gunton (Alexander McAnally III), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Capt. Linda Greenlaw), John C. Reilly (Murph), John Hawkes (Bugsy), Michael Ironside (Ship Owner), Rusty Schwimmer (Irene); Runtime: 129; Warner Brothers; 2000)
“It’s all about money and pride.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“The Perfect Storm” is based on Sebastian Junger’s best-selling book. It is about a Gloucester, Mass. fishing skipper, Billy Tyne (George Clooney), and his five-man crew aboard a small swordfishing boat, the Andrea Gail, who go out deep into the North Atlantic to a place where they never fished before. It’s a place that is almost off their fishing map, called the Flemish Cap. They go there because the captain is in a fishing slump and must protect his reputation, and he knows there are fish in those waters. It’s all about money and pride.

The film is long on man-against-nature action scenes filmed with graphic computerized special effects, but short on character development and human drama. It is a commercial film, driven by the usual formula used for disaster movies. It is directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the German director, who made the best submarine picture ever made “Das Boot.” The film succeeds as a nail-biter because when the boat is caught in the storm, the filmmaker has already painted a real picture of the fishing town and how tough it is to exist for the fishermen economically. So when the men battle the storm at sea, we are affected by their struggle to survive.

In 1991, on Halloween, the Great Nor’easter occurred out in the Atlantic Ocean, it was described by meteorologists as something that they never saw happen before in this century, two hurricane weather fronts combining as one, which they called the perfect storm. The crew aboard the Andrea Gail, consisting of: Murph (Reilly), a good-hearted soul, who is separated from his wife and young son, losing them to his professional duties even though he loves both of them dearly — but commercial fishermen on sword fishing boats go out to sea for as long as a month at a time and he loses touch with his wife after those long absences; Bugsy (Hawkes), who is someone searching desperately for any woman in any port; Alfred (Payne), the lone black man aboard; Sully (Fichtner) is the wise guy with a chip on his shoulder, but who proves himself heroic when he helps rescue his rival, Murph, who fell overboard; Bobby (Wahlberg) is someone who reluctantly casts out after much doubt about this fishing trip since he just came back from being out for a long time. He is in love with the perfect girl, Christina (Lane), and needs money to pay his ex-wife for child support and for his upcoming marriage to Christina. One day he wants to be his own skipper–he has the only natural New England accent in the film; and, lastly, there is the skipper, Bill Tyne, who is separated from his wife and two daughters, whose love for the sea and his skills as a captain are not questioned.

Once the storm blows and these men are caught in it, the men become secondary figures and the storm takes over as the film’s star. Most of the second-half of the film is taken over by computer graphics, as we witness the boat trying to make it back home amid gigantic waves of over 100-feet covering the boat and of winds of over fifty miles per hour. Our sympathy for the men is somewhat diminished by their choice of not sitting out the storm in the safe waters where they were, but on insisting on returning home through the storm because their ice machine broke. If they remained put, their great haul of fish would be destroyed. The men were clearly driven by greed and the captain might be intrepid, but he made a dumb decision listening to his crew. The only real heroes in this movie were the Air Force and Coast Guard rescuers, who risked their lives to save these foolhardy men. They also pull from the sea three members of a yacht caught in the same waters.

When their vessel is down, Bobby tells the captain we gave it good ride…words that seem futile and misplaced, though certainly gallant. But it is the only glimmer of intelligent dialogue that appeared to be taking place in the last 45-minutes, ever since the giant waves crested against the boat and the men could only be seen in the dark with their yellow slickers.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is the captain of the Andrea Gail’s sister ship, the Hannah Boden, and she is more than a friend to Captain Tyne; while, Michael Ironside is the man who owns both boats. All the side stories are superfluous to the storm.

Even though the film has a bleak ending and awkward dialogue, it has blockbuster written all over its sails. I think the public will accept the grim outcome and relish viewing the storm and the terrible damage it causes, because it is the kind of action film they will want to see this summer while they munch on popcorn in an air-conditioned theater.