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IN SHORT: The effects are the star. Rated [PG-13], 132 minutes
Before we begin: both George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg talked with our west coast guy Paul Fischer for CrankyCritic® StarTalk. Paul offers up his own review, a great contrast to mine, here. As always, no comparison is made to the source material, which spen a year at the top of the New York Times charts.
If there's one thing I've learned in the five years I've been doing these columns full time, it is to dread the words "Based on a True Story". There may be a good story at all of the roots, but keeping a script true to the facts often leads to a poor moviegoing experience. OR, the individual story, if it is one where a person faces up to an event far and beyond the normal, usually gets lost in the event. That's the case with The Perfect Storm, detailing a meteorological monster of a 1991 storm in the North Atlantic, which wreaked havoc on shipping and boats at sea (the emphasis here) and flooded the New York City subways hundreds of miles away.
While director Wolfgang Petersen's movie flits around the ocean -- a capsized pleasure boat down near Bermuda and the efforts of the Coast Guard to save them -- the focus is on the crew of a swordfish boat called Andrea Gail, captained by Billy Tyne (George Clooney). At minimum you will walk away from the movie with an understanding of just how incredibly hard deep sea fishing, as a trade, is and how unforgiving the high seas can be. We've got commercial coast skimmers here in New York, which is the extent of my experience, and they pull in to harbor when the seas get more than choppy. The deep sea boats can't do that, at a hundred miles out. As well, once you see the specifics of the trade, you may never want to eat fish again.
The Andrea Gail sails out of Gloucester, Massachusetts and has been having a really bad season. Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) captains the Hannah Boden, a boat that's been pulling in tons of product, and her offers of a co-captaincy to Tyne are rejected on a business, but not an emotional, level. Second man at the wheel is Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), so deeply in love with Christina Cotter (Diane Lane) that he doesn't want to take the last-minute final trip of the season. They need the money. He has to go. She has "a bad feeling" about the hastily scheduled additional trip. The rest of the crew, whom we meet while they party hard at the Crow's Nest bar, includes Dale "Murph" Murphy (John C. Reilly), who has a divorced wife and kid to support and running feud with the Captain's friend Sully (William Fichtner); Michael "Bugsy" Moran (John Hawkes) is so socially pathetic he can't even pick up the fat lady at the bar; and Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne) whose rep as a stud is legendary in the bar.
Petersen and scriptwriter Bill Wittliff's attempt to give us pieces of each of the fishermen to make emotional connections with ultimately gives us nothing. Widening the scope of the picture, to show the storm's effect on ships small and large, specifically a small sailboat named Mistral (with Karen Allen on board) and the efforts of a Coast Guard rescue team, also distract from building up Clooney's crew. The sequences involving the Coast Guard (actually) work a hell of a lot better than the five guys on the swordboat. The intent is to show the power and effect of the storm. What a monster it is. But The Perfect Storm lacks focus. The result does not grab you by the scruff of the neck and rub your nose in it, which is what a terrific movie would do. ILM delivers effects which, complemented by a surround sound mix that hit rip-roaring levels, do all the work. Think of it this way: Small boat. Huge, crashing waves. More story telling power in these sequences than in the rest of the film combined. If the hour that comes before the storm had given strong reasons to care about even one of the crew, The Perfect Storm would have been a much more effective film.
There is so much that is wrong about The Perfect Storm that explaining it all to you would involve revealing all of the story. Any astute filmgoer will figure that story out within two minutes of the pre-title sequence, which is more than I should tell you but about as far as I will go. As for the other technical elements, the underscore, by James Horner, flat out fails. It doesn't build tension. It does nothing but call attention to itself, 'cuz it doesn't match the action.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Perfect Storm, he would have paid...
yes, that's dateflick level. Yes, The Perfect Storm is not a "great" movie. Then again, I've always been a sucker for effects and those here, when you get to them, are spectacular. They should be seen on a big screen. Thus, the rating.
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