Gigantic waves, piercing lightning bolts, shrieking winds, and loud claps of thunder attack with monumental sound and fury in The Perfect Storm. Based on a true story, this latest disaster movie follows the Andrea Gale, a fishing boat manned by a six-member crew, as it faces a relentless battering by the worst storm of the 20th century. Sadly, the movie’s plot and character development take a similar beating in this special effects extravaganza.
Although those same weaknesses mar other man-against-nature films (Twister, Earthquake, Volcano, etc.), one expects more from director Wolfgang Petersen, the wizard behind Das Boot and Air Force One. And from screenwriter Bill Wittliff, who adapted Sebastian Junger’s popular non-fiction book. Can this be the writer who also did that in-depth adaptation of Lonesome Dove for television? It hardly seems possible.
It’s extremely unfortunate that The Perfect Storm’s real-life characters, introduced in a lackluster opening sequence, come across like leftovers from a 1940’s B-movie. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, fresh from their success in Three Kings, play veteran fisherman Billy Tyne and new recruit Bobby Shatford with very little feeling for these representatives of America’s most dangerous occupation. It takes more than beards and scruffy clothes to make men like this come alive on screen. In all fairness, these actors have little to work with in terms of dialogue. For example, Clooney says such banal lines as "I’m a fisherman. That’s what I do." In addition, Wahlberg and Clooney spend most of their time yelling at each other because of the film’s thunderous sound effects.
Other members of the Andrea Gale crew are portrayed by John C. Reilly (Magnolia), William Fichtner (Drowning Mona), Allen Payne (A Price Above Rubies), and John Hawkes (Blue Streak). It’s never made clear why the two seamen played by Reilly and Fichtner hate each other so much, but several confusing sequences focus on their enmity. However, a buffed-up Fichtner, as the volatile Sully, comes close to adding some human excitement to the film.
With the exception of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Limbo), who projects strength of character as the captain of another fishing vessel, actresses are wasted as "ladies in waiting" in The Perfect Storm. It’s disappointing to see talented Diane Lane (A Walk on the Moon) in such an unchallenging role. Because her lover decides to go to sea one more time, all she’s required to do is look sad throughout the rest of the film. Janet Wright (McCabe and Mrs. Miller) as a long-suffering mother and Rusty Schwimmer (A Little Princess) as the new girl friend of one of the seamen also get too little camera exposure considering their impressive talent. Two other fine actresses play a different kind of waiting game. Cherry Jones (Cradle Will Rock) and Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) appear briefly as women on a yacht who are exasperated by the owner’s refusal to call for help.
Make no mistake about it, the real stars of this film are its amazing special effects. Thanks to Industrial Light and Magic, the Atlantic Ocean explodes with awesome power on the big screen. Surprisingly, the movie’s real heroes are not the Andrea Gale crew, but those brave rescue teams who risked their lives to save others during the monster storm of October, 1991. For a more informative look at their daring work, watch The Killer Storm, an outstanding History Channel television documentary.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "PG-13" for language and scenes of peril.)