"The Perfect Storm" deals with the sorts of people who
love their job as professional fishermen so much that they'd
happily spend their retirement years with a rod and line as
well. This bunch, though, are destined never to see those
leisure years given the vagaries of nature. While the sea
provides these fellows with the source of their income, it can
be a vicious enemy as well, whether leaving them high and
dry and bereft of anything to catch or wildly rich with a
bounteous catch which, alas, will never be brought to market.
We give nothing away to say this, as the movie is based on
Sebastian Junger's non-fiction tale of a boat called the
Andrea Gail which in October 1991 sailed from Gloucester,
Massachusetts to the remote area of Flemish Cap, so far
removed from familiar waters that the risk of being cast adrift
by a storm would be disastrous to its crew.
But the hardy fellows in the Andrea Gail are Gloucester
fishermen, a macho band who take as much pride in their
profession as would a group of scientists finding a cure for
the common cold. The principal drawback of the story is that
because it is based on an actual disaster with which many in
the audience would be familiar, there is little suspense.
Adding to that flaw, director Wolfgang Petersen--who helmed
the much more trenchant "Das Boot"--gives us little in the
way of character development this time, so that we fail
emotionally to become sufficiently caught up in their fate.
The picture opens in a dive at the Gloucester docks known
as the Crow's Nest, the sort of place that we expect to see
out west where the locals have nothing to do but drink,
dance, and rent upstairs rooms by the hour. We are
introduced to the men and the women who care for them.
Billy Tyne (George Clooney), a divorced father with a
perpetual three-day growth of hair on his face, is in a slide.
The fish in the area are not biting, he's coming home with a
pittance, and his pride is hurt so much that he is determined
to risk all to break out of his slump with a grand-slam catch.
A fellow divorce, Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg) is attached
to the just about the only good-looking girl among these salt-
of-the-earth townspeople, Christine Cotter (Diane Lane), while
Murph (John C. Reilly), Bugsy (John Hawkes), Alfred Pierre
(Allen Payne) and David Sullivan (William Fichtner) fill out the
Petersen divides the film into two segments. One involves
the women who are left behind, with whom he milks the
stereotypical situation of landlubbing females pining for their
men while dreading the occupation they have chosen. The
other deals with the way these guys relate to one another,
which is predictable enough except for the perplexing and
unmotivated enmity between Murph and Sullivan. Once the
big storm hits--the storm of the century, thanks to the
confluence of three pressure areas in the same location--the
struggle for survival eventuates, a tussle that involves the
brave machinations of a group of Air Force helicopter pilots
whose job is to locate boats in trouble and rescue the
inhabitants with the aid of a dropped basket. To break up the
monotony, Petersen introduces an analogous situation, that
of a yacht also caught in nature's wrath and which is the
object of yet another daring rescue attempt by both a Coast
Guard vessel and the chopper chugging just above the water
with zero visibility.
The failure to develop any of the characters, the absence
of suspense from a story well known by the audience, and
perhaps most of all the artificial, computerized look of the big
waves combine like the three meteorological pressure points to
make this $140 million feature as disappointing to the
audience as the senseless loss of lives is to the people who
care for these bold anglers.
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten