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January 24, 2005

Review: The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm
Wolfgang Petersen's achievement in this film is stunning: to take a thoroughly engaging, harrowing, short little book and turn it into an overlong, boring, and ultimately unfulfilling movie.

It's not that any single element shouldn't add up -- the performances are actually not too bad. George Clooney, who I confess to have underestimating some years ago¹, turns in a solid performance as the doomed Andrea Gail's captain. Mark Wahlburg does well enough as a doomed crew member, and the interactions of other members of the crew are well done. Other elements that were particularly strong in the book are the descriptions of the storm's intensity and the size of waves -- ably represented by the special effects -- and the plight of the modern small fisherman, more on which in a minute.

The performances of those left on land fare less well than their seagoing counterparts -- Diane Lane makes the most of what little material she's given, but there's not much beyond the cliché to work with, nor for any of the others left behind. Indeed, most of what happens on shore could have been left on the cutting room floor to overall better effect. By the time we get to the final moments of the Gail's crew, which should be thrilling and terrifying, we're worn out and unable to engage our imaginations.

The film does touch a bit on the plight of the modern fisherman, squeezed by two consequences of overfishing: market prices being driven lower, and the need to steam further out to find enough fish worth bringing home. Partly representing the greed in this conflict, Michael Ironside feels entirely like a cardboard cutout in playing the boat's owner -- his talents as a generally stable character actor feel feeble in this film.

In the end, the most thrilling tale the movie has to tell is not about the events on the Andrea Gail, but instead on a little sailboat called the Mistral, which found itself in the midst of a horrible storm and required the Coast Guard's aid. It may be because we actually know what happened to these people, or because of the heroic actions mounted by one helicopter rescue crew to save them, but in the end their story is more satisfying, even though we know far less about the characters. And that's a shame.

** (out of four)

¹I.e., back in the days of "One Fine Day", "The Peacemaker", and, of course, the execrable "Batman and Robin".

Posted by Brett Douville at January 24, 2005 06:41 PM