"Billy, you're not going to like this, but I'm going to say it anyway:
You be careful," swordfish boat captain Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth
Mastrantonio) radios to captain Billy Tyne, played with a single, wooden
expression by George Clooney.
Yes, she's right. He doesn't like it, and he doesn't listen, even if
he's endangering the lives of his crew by knowingly sailing into the
"Storm of the Century" in order to bring home a lucrative catch. You,
however, will have to listen to lots of such hackneyed dialog in THE
PERFECT STORM, a TV disaster movie of the week masquerading as this
summer's big action picture.
You might think Billy's foolhardy actions would make him the villain of
this piece, but it doesn't. In a bit of class hatred, William
Wittliff's script reserves that role for the owner of the boat that
Billy seems destined to smash to smithereens.
Based on a popular book by Sebastian Junger, the movie claims to be
based on a true story, which in a way it is. But the facts that the
book had to work from are sketchy so that it has to be described as a
fictional tale based on what we know about a true story. This, however,
has little to do with the problems in the movie.
As the story opens, we find ourselves stuck in a long half-hour soap
opera about Gloucester fishermen and their families with divorced being
the most common state. At first, it seems like the picture will never
get into gear.
At the center of the story is Billy, a captain who has been having a
string of bad luck lately with catches so small that his crew has begun
to doubt him. But, since they all share in the take, they agree to sail
out with him one more time to the Grand Banks before the season ends.
For those few viewers who do not know the ending, the picture feels
obligated to telegraph it for them frequently. "The Grand Banks are no
joke in October," the mother of junior crew member Bobby Shatford (Mark
Wahlberg) sternly warns him. With a beautiful girlfriend (Diane Lane)
who needs money, he's willing to risk the late season journey. She has
kids from a previous marriage and requires funds for a lawyer so she can
sue to get them back.
After a lot of petty bickering on board ship and after a slew of bad
luck, the storm finally hits. The surprise is that the action in the
center ring about the boat isn't in the least bit edge-of-the seat
material. No matter how much water they splash around and no matter how
rocky the waves are around the toy models, they are never credible. And
with the fast action editing, it becomes one long, tedious and blurry
bore. Even when the end seems near, our eyes are the only dry part of
the theater. The movie just never creates characters worth caring
On the other hand, there are two significant subplots in the side rings.
A clichéd one involves a sailboat skippered with stupid bravado. A much
better one concerns the rescue helicopter sent out to save both of our
foolish captains. The remarkable bravery of the helicopter crew is the
only compelling story in the movie.
Finally, there is the manipulative ending, of which the less said the
better. James Horner's dramatic music conjures up images of the much
better film that I thought I was going to see -- one that was worthy of
the movie's superlative director, Wolfgang Petersen (DAS BOOT).
Instead, I got little models tossed around in choppy water. If I had
seen the movie on television, where it belongs, I would have turned it
off. The fishermen of Gloucester, of which 10,000 have died since 1632
according to the ending credits, deserve a more fitting memorial that
this motion picture.
THE PERFECT STORM runs a long 2:09. It is rated PG-13 for language and
scenes of peril and would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes