The Perfect Storm

Yawn. What a waste of money, time and talent. Despite all the “based on a true story” buzz that wants us to believe that this is a serious homage to real life heroes, this is just another one of those witless disaster flicks that live only for their CGI effects. Too bad, because for a while, I thought we were in for a truly moving adventure. The film relates the demise of 6 fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts who, in the fall of 1991, went back to sea only to find themselves up against the biggest storm ever recorded in these latitudes. This event was turned into a best selling novel by Sebastian Junger, and now this big summer blockbuster directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

Without being particularly deep or insightful, the characters and their little dramas as they are set-up in the first 40 minutes of the films are interesting, and it makes you care for these guys. You’ve got George Clooney as a swordfish boat captain who loves nothing more than to sail the Atlantic, so much that it’s cost him his wife and children, who probably left him because he was gone too often. Maybe he’d be better off with a woman like the one played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio who, since she’s in charge of a boat of her own, actually understands Clooney’s Hemingwayesque longing for the sea. Then you’ve got John C. Reilly as another poor slob smelling of fish who lost his family. He tries pathetically to win his wife back, but it’s no use: she’s already out shagging other guys. At least his son still loves him, and that keeps him going. His buddy Bugsy (Allen Payne) has it even worst, he’s not even capable of talking to a woman without passing for a complete moron. Still, on the night before they go back at sea, he meets a nice chubby single mom who doesn’t immediately rejects him. There might still be hope…

The other three characters have it more easy with women, which somehow made them less compelling to me, and to the filmmakers apparently. Marky Mark Walhberg (back next to Clooney after last year’s “Three Kings”) does get major screen time alternately making out and fighting with the woman he loves (Diane Lane), but his character is barely sketched out, and those of John Hawkes and William Fichtner are even more superficial. All we know about Hawkes is that he’s a Jamaican who makes the chandeliers shake when he balls his white lady friend in the room over the bar where the gang hangs out, and Fichtner seems to be there only to create tension in the group, as he bumps heads with Reilly over his ex-wife. So this is no exceptional character study, but it’s enough for us to feel involved with these blue collar All-American Joes. In what I feel would be a gustsier move from the honchos back at Warner Bros, the film could have kept its focus on these working class guys and then have them meet their destiny in the storm of the century, which would have been much more tragic.

Unfortunately, once the Andrea Gail leaves port, the movie starts to drag and grow duller by the minute. The dynamics on board quickly become repetitive and predictable. When the sailors don’t catch fish, they’re grumpy. Reilly and Fichtner fight like schoolboys. When they catch fish, oh now they’re jolly. Through it all, clunky dialogue, and nothing of much interest. Will the impending disastrous weather spark some life back into the film? Nope. Sure, it will become incredibly noisy and rocky and wet, but never will it actually make us either think, be moved or even be much thrilled. When TV reporters starts babbling about how three storm formations are about to collide near the Bermudas and create what he calls a “perfect storm”, packing hurricane-strong winds and 100 feet waves, first thing that goes through your mind is, are these fishermen stupid or what? Don’t they check the weather before going out in the ocean ? The film explains that Clooney and crew have been in a slump lately, and they really need the money, but still…

Then, what doesn’t help is that Petersen keeps leaving the Andrea Gail to show us what the Coast Guard are up to. I guess it’s so we know why they couldn’t go help our “heroes”, but the thing is, we don’t care about these guys. These are nobody actors playing dudes we know nothing about. Oh, so they’re nearly drowning, and the helicopter is having problemw in these extreme conditions and whatnot… So what? Then we go back to Clooney and the bunch, and though it is tragic how they strive to survive in the middle of a monster storm that’s almost sure to crush them, it’s not particularly exciting. Amazing state-of-the-art special FX can only go so far. At the service of a wrenching story like the doomed romance in “Titanic”, movie magic heightens a film experience.

But an hour of rain and wind and waves blasting over characters we stopped caring about is a crushing bore, especially since beside the huge wave from the trailer and the poster, there are no other money shots. The horribly syrupy score by James Horner is plain awful and the epilogue is pure emotionnal overkill that makes you go “Enough already, run the credits!”. “The Perfect Storm” is a letdown, especially considering how damn promising the first act is.