June 30, 2000 -- It was dark and stormy night when the unlucky fishing boat hit the hurricane. Sorry, I couldn't resist, but that must have been part of the plot outline for this movie. The line comes from the famous first words of the winner entry in a bad detective story writing contest.
I'd like to at least believe there was once the possibility of a good movie in "The Perfect Storm," but somewhere along the way, something went very wrong. I'm still trying to figure out what. First of all, this is a disaster movie, not just a disaster of a movie. Somehow a bunch of people took $100 million, some good special effects, some very good actors, and turned it into a mediocre movie. It has the standard disaster story plot outline: 1. Introduce characters. 2. Explain motivation. 3. Explain impending disaster. 4. Put characters in harm's way. 5. Introduce rescuers. 6. Put rescuers in harm's way.
The trouble is, this is a story based on a factual account and the facts don't fit the formula. We get shorthand character descriptions, nothing with any real depth. We're supposed to sympathize with the characters, but they aren't very sympathetic. They seem like a bunch of losers, and fairly uninteresting losers at that. The rescuers are more interesting, but we don't get to know them at all. Bobby Shatford, a member of the fishing crew, (played by Mark Wahlberg of "Three Kings") and his girlfriend, Christina Cotter (Diane Lane of "My Dog Skip"), are the best of the lot. The captain of the boat, Billy Tyne (George Clooney of "Three Kings"), seems a little too distant. He's not quite accessible.
Typical of the character development in the movie is the relationship between one of the crewmen, Mike "Bugsy" Moran (played by John Hawkes of "Blue Streak"), and his would-be girlfriend, Big Red (Rusty Schwimmer). They meet at the local Gloucester bar. Neither one of them is attractive and both of them are down on their luck. He is desperate, she is suspicious, having lost at love before. You could find a couple like this in any bar. I don't know if I'd ever really care to see a more realistic romance than this one. Then there's Dale "Murph" Murphy (played by the great character actor John C. Reilly of "Magnolia"). A glum fellow who mourns the breakup of his family. Murphy has a touching scene with his son. Again, this is gritty, no-frills stuff, very un-Hollywood like. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who is glamorous, is in this film too, but her role is fairly minor. She seems lost in a fog.
Yet the movie still tries to stuff the round peg of this gritty realism into the square hole of the disaster movie plot. It just never quite works. For that, you need characters that are somewhat more noble and admirable, not people who risk their lives for mere money. That's what it amounts to. The captain and crew agree to go risk entering a hurricane for $250,000 worth of fish, when they could have easily stayed out of the storm.
On top of this, there are two more subplots involving a sailboat caught in the same hurricane and the heroic efforts of the rescuers. As I said before, the movie might well have been better if it focused on the rescuers. It seemed to me to be the more interesting story. By the way, one of those on the sailboat is played by none other than Karen Allen of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" fame.
You can tell the makers of this film (the director is Wolfgang Petersen of "Outbreak" and "In the Line of Fire") tried very hard to do the right thing. They tried character development and they spent millions on special effects. The problem is, they needed to build up the mystique of boating, the fishing tradition and the danger of the ocean more at the beginning of the film. All they give us is the "cast of the stern line, cast off the bow line," yadda, yadda, yadda. It doesn't wash. They shouldn't have waited until the very end of the film to tell us an astonishing 20,000 Gloucester fishermen have lost their lives at sea in the last 75 years or so.
The special effects are quite good, but it seemed very dark much of the time. Maybe that's the way it is when you are in a hurricane. The last part of the film seemed endless as the boat was pounded relentlessly by the waves and wind. Instead of being exciting, it got to be kind of monotonous after a while. It was hard to get your bearings. You could hear the noise and see the ship getting tossed about, but you really couldn't see which way the waves were going in relation to the boat, and sometimes they seemed to switch directions, crashing back against the wind and storm. It was hard to get a sense of what was happening. Maybe that's why I felt detached from the action.
The actors did a good job and there is certainly a lot of fine acting talent in this film, but it pretty much goes to waste. They even do their best to master the elusive Massachusetts accent. Once the movie gets rolling into that "it was a dark and stormy night" bit, it sinks in a hurry. You might say this film is all wet. It rates a C.
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