The Perfect Storm
Directed byWolfgang Petersen
Written by Bill Wittliff, from the book by Sebastian Junger

Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio


The Perfect Storm

First, a question: How is it nobody on the Andrea Gail wears a life jacket, even when The Storm Of The Century is pounding them with gigantic waves, and they're being flung overboard like so much confetti? May I also point out that they're surviving those hundred-foot waves while wearing their boots and heavy rubberized slickers?

I will say that the special effects in "The Perfect Storm" are superb. Unlike "Twister," where you could see on the screen the inability of the computer graphic artists to actually bring the funnel into the foreground where the live actors were, here those monumental waves are, well, perfect. And the studio tank work, with thousands of gallons of water pouring in as the boat pitches and rolls wildly, throwing the cast hither and yon, is also brilliantly done (by director Wolfgang Petersen, who made "Das Boot"). In fact, the best things in the film are the effects. There is a sequence in which a rescue helicopter tries, in the middle of the storm, to get in position for aerial refueling from a tanker plane, and keeps missing the connection. And another in which the helicopter crew, having been forced to ditch, is rescued by a Coast Guard cutter. Petersen is a master at staging and lighting this kind of scene. He uses a variety of greys as his defining colors -- of the sea and the sky -- and enhances the power of the scenes enormously. It is lighting as much as action that gives films like this their best moments.

Certainly it isn't the script, or the acting. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as the captain of another swordfishing vessel, looks and acts like she'd never done more in the water than play with her rubber ducky. And Diane Lane -- who was so memorable in "A Walk on the Moon" -- is disastrously over the top here as the lover of, no kidding, Mark Wahlberg. These are terribly misguided attempts at humanizing a story of fishermen we know only because they died at sea.

The film sets up the tragedy of the Andrea Gail in a mechanical way: Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) is having a bad run of luck, and decides to go out late in the season for just one more try. The script (by Bill Wittliff) even dares to give us lines like "Don't go! We'll find the money somehow!" And "I've got a bad feeling about this." If there's a cliche available, Wittliff has found a way to use it, including a television weather man who sits at his computer struggling to get out the words "The Perfect Storm" as though he were gripped by an awful constipation.

Still, the film has great visceral power, and the scenes on board the boat, both the fishing and the storm-fighting, are beautifully realized. When the end finally comes, we do feel at least a bit of catharsis, and for that we can thank Mr. Petersen.    

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