Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:09 - Released 6/30/00

The story of the Andrea Gail, a swordfish boat from Gloucester, Massachusetts, that was lost at sea in 1991, is thrillingly recounted in Wolfgang Petersen's The Perfect Storm, based on the book by Sebastian Junger and adapted for the screen by William D. Wittliff. The fact that the story is true somehow lends weight to the film; I wouldn't believe it otherwise. The computer effects are, of course, compelling, but the film suffers from a stillborn sense of character. Petersen tries desperately to make us care about these guys before they cast off, but Wittliff's script gives them little more than trite stereotypes (and the actors don't really help much, either), so from an emotional standpoint it's an uphill battle.

As the film's name suggests, it's not as much about the Andrea Gail as the storm itself; the action continually switches back and forth between the swordboat's predicament and two other vessels that call "Mayday" as a result of the massive tempest. The Andrea Gail's skipper is Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney), a divorcé with two daughters. After a disappointing catch, he decides to go out and try again. Against the wishes of various wives and girlfriends, he takes along his crew: Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), David Sullivan (William Fichtner), Dale Murphy (John C. Reilly), Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne), and Michael "Bugsy" Moran (John Hawkes). When a major storm develops, Billy outruns it and heads for calmer seas, but a faulty refrigeration unit forces him to drive back home early or risk losing his precious, fishy cargo. Unfortunately, his path takes him directly between a couple of colliding hurricanes.

This film is nothing without its visuals. That can be said for many films of the present day, of course; billions of dollars are spent every year making movies that are visually astounding and emotionally bankrupt. What is surprising to me is that The Perfect Storm, being a true story, didn't move me more than it did. I have never been a fan of George Clooney (ironically, I feel he delivers one of his better performances here), but it's something about Wittliff's screenplay that turns a thrilling true story into a full-blown Hollowwood vehicle, complete with credibility gaps and continuity problems. As usual in movies that involve water, people are able to hold their breath for far longer than is actually possible. We see a man get a huge hook stabbed through the center of his palm, and after the ordeal is over, he seems perfectly fine, with no bandage, no pain, and no difficulty carrying out his duties (which include pulling on heavy ropes and working a wrench on a stubborn bolt head).

As if to make the film more emotionally impactful, syrupy-sweet romances are worked into the story. Besides the Titanic-style love scenes involving one sailor and his fiancée (Diane Lane), another meets a woman who, after initially being turned off, acts as if she was in love with the man. Moreover, Tyne's real-life colleague, Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is forced to imply that she would like to settle down with him before ending up screaming frantic warnings over the radio. Mastrantonio is at her scenery-chewing worst here — thank goodness she isn't in much of the film.

On the other hand, the storm sequences are truly gripping; I lost count of the heroic rescues performed not only by the Andrea Gail crew but the various members of the coast guard (a separate story entirely), and John Seale's cinema and James Horner's music contribute a great deal to making a beautiful film from a tragic and unpleasant subject. ****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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