The Perfect Storm
directed by Wolfgang Petersen
(Warner Brothers, 2000)

Billy Tyne (George Clooney) is a washed-up skipper whose luck at sea seems gone. After a particulary dry run for swordfish out of Gloucester, Mass., he takes his crew and the Andrea Gail out for one last fishing trip of the season.

The set-up is slow as we meet the crew, their friends and lovers. This part of the film is too long and, ultimately, unnecessary. Poor character development means we never get to know these people very well anyway, so some trimming for time would have helped. Besides, much of the dialogue sounds forced and cliched, so we probably wouldn't have missed it on the cutting room floor. Things pick up gradually at sea, with the occasional shark attack, man overboard and on-deck scuffle to keep the pace from floundering entirely.

Then the storm starts to build, and we wonder why no one aboard is checking the weather reports.

A Boston-area weatherman is having fits of glee as three separate weather systems converge over the Atlantic, combining forces to become one of the most devastatingly powerful storms of the century. While the crew of the Andrea Gail (Mark Wahlberg, John Hawkes, William Fichtner, Allen Payne and John C. Reilly) remains blissfully unaware of the forecast while hauling up a record number of swordfish from a calm sea over the Flemish Cap, we see Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), skipper of the fishing boat Hannah Bowden, heading for the coast as the storm builds to the west while trying desperately to radio a warning to Tyne. We also see the tiny sailboat Mistral and the three people onboard (Bob Gunton, Karen Allen and Cherry Jones) being tossed around by rough seas near Bermuda, and we witness the Coast Guard's heroic efforts to save them. Then it's back to the Andrea Gail, where the crew has foolishly decided to sail straight into the storm so they can get 60,000 pounds of swordfish to shore and make their fortunes.

This puts us in the heart of the storm for some of the most realistic and sensational weather effects ever seen on screen. From here on in, it's pure thrills -- and let's be honest here, the real star of this film is the weather. Actors serve only to give the storm a human context. But what a ride -- the storm is so realistic you can feel the wind and water in your face, blinding your eyes, as the floor heaves and shakes beneath you.

The Perfect Storm is based on a book by Sebastian Junger. The non-fiction bestseller is based on actual events which occurred in 1991, although many of the details in the movie are fictitious.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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