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The Perfect Storm   C

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Writer: Bill Wittliff (based on the book by Sebastian Junger)
Cast: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John Hawkes, Allen Payne, William Fichtner, Michael Ironside.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Near the end of The Perfect Storm, there's a shot that's absolutely breathtaking. We see a little spec of a man floating amidst a sea of dark, raging waters, and then we see a massive wave looming over him, ready to seal his impending doom. Man is so utterly small and defenseless against the wrath of nature, and that moment asserts this with a potency that's close to terrifying. Never mind that the scene is marred by a sappy voice-over, it still works. I only wish I could say the rest of the film worked as well.

The Perfect Storm is based on the true story of six swordfishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts who hit the high seas in a boat called the Andrea Gail, only to get caught in the middle of three colliding storms. Sebastian Junger's nonfiction book detailing the story, The Perfect Storm, was a New York Times best-seller for over a year, so it was just a matter of time before Hollywood came a-knocking.

George Clooney plays Billy Tyne, the captain of the boat and a passionate swordfisherman. There's nothing else he'd rather be doing, but times are tough and he and his crew haven't been making the kind of profits they need. Almost as soon as they get back from a long trip out to sea, they have to make another trip and hopefully score big this time. So Billy gathers up his crew and sets sail. Bobby Shatdford (Mark Wahlberg) goes along despite the fact that his girlfriend (Diane Lane) doesn't want him to; they're in love. Rounding out the crew are Murph (John C. Reilly), a divorced dad; Bugsy (John Hawkes), an awkward fella who develops a sweetly humorous romance with a single mom just before the trip; and Alfred (Allen Payne), a Jamaican who gets hardly any screen-time or dialogue. And then there's the last-minute addition to the crew, Sully (William Fichtner), who doesn't get along well with Murph.

So the stage is set for a rip-roaring disaster film. Too bad The Perfect Storm only occasionally achieves the edge-of-your-seat queasiness that it tries to maintain throughout it's turbulent second half. Some of the images are a marvel to behold -- like the money shot (seen in the trailers) of the Andrea Gail heading up the side of that gigantic wave. If the characters had been more than one-dimensional stick figures, I might have had a reason to care about them. But the only reason the weak script gives us to care about these characters is that they have loved ones back home; it's Hollywood melodrama at its most shameless.

Director Wolfgang Petersen manages to get a lot of mileage out of the storm early on, and at the start of the disaster, it really feels like we're aboard that boat. You can almost feel the icy cold water, your heart thudding like a jackhammer. But that feeling is fleeting, and soon the movie settles into dull repetition (Look, there's another shot of Clooney and Wahlberg getting drenched!). It's a loud, nonstop parade of some quite impressive special effects -- but the action is flat and unengaging. The editing even feels random and sloppy. The subplots involving a luxury sailboat caught in the mess and the Coast Gaurd's rescue attempts break the flow of things and cripple the suspense.

A few scenes stand out as being well-crafted and exciting, but overall The Perfect Storm lies somewhere in the realm of mediocrity. The cast does a wonderful job with the soggy material, though, and the ending does have slight emotional resonance. It's just too bad that The Perfect Storm has trouble staying afloat.

Review published 07.07.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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