Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW

The Perfect Storm

by Sebastian Junger and William D. Wittliff

reviewed by Don Harlow

And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace.
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
-- William Whiting, 1860

Well, I hope I'm not spoiling this for anybody when I say that this doesn't have a happy ending. But I guess the filmmakers had to stick to the facts -- at least as far as anybody knows them...

We are in late summer of 1991. Bill Tyne (George Clooney) is captain of the Andrea Gail, a swordboat (boat used to catch swordfish, for those steaks you get in the better, if somewhat environmentally inattentive, seafood restaurants) out of Gloucester, Mass. Recently he's had a run of bad luck -- small hauls, smaller financial return, since, of course, the boat's owner, Bob Brown (the inimitable Michael Ironsides) takes his cut off the top. The season is about over, but Tyne is convinced that one more run -- this time, out beyond the Grand Banks to the little-fished Flemish Cap -- will turn his luck around. And he convinces his crew of five to go with him, despite various personal problems, mostly having to do with ladies, that his crewmen experience and sometimes (uncomfortably) share.

The Andrea Gail heads out to sea, leaving behind several grieving, and several not-so-grieving, ladies, most notably Christina (Diane Lane), fiancee of crewman Bobby (Mark Wahlberg). Much of the film shows the boat sitting on a glassy sea, hauling aboard swordfish after swordfish (simulated, according to the note at the end of the film), as well as the occasional pissed-off leg-munching Great White Shark. Despite certain internal stresses within the crew, accidents are kept to a minimum (though one may suppose that being dragged overboard by a swordfish hook rammed through your hand can't be much fun). But back on land, meteorologists are watching the genesis of Hurricane Grace, which, should it manage to join up with a cold low pressure center over Sable Island, could turn into the real Storm of the Century -- and come tracking up right between Gloucester and the Andrea Gail.

The storm is very well done, and I suggest that those with a tendency to motion sickness might better avoid this film. (1) We follow both the battle between the Andrea Gail and the storm and a subplot involving a Coast Guard rescue helicopter, which, itself trying to find the Andrea Gail to rescue it, has to ditch in the ocean. The special effects here are, as I suggested, excellent. The events on board the Andrea Gail are, of course, purely speculative, since nobody knows exactly what happened after it encountered the storm; some appear to be highly unlikely, as Linda Greenlaw (captain of the Andrea Gail's sister ship the Hannah Boden, played in the film by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) points out in an interview in today's Washington Post. Nevertheless, they make for good action drama, which is what this film is intended to be.

A fairly good film, marred a bit by a slow and overlong start. Enjoy the Industrial-Light-and-Magic storm. Enjoy the music by James Horner.


(1) In January, 1960, faced with ten days of swells only half as high as the ones in the film, I spent much time hanging over a ship's rail staring down into the heaving (up and down, up and down, up and ...) green of the sea and praying for an iceberg to come along and put me out of my misery. And George Lucas has always been very good about creating effects that can disturb the inner ear (see e.g. the search for Solo and Skywalker on the ice planet Hoth early in The Empire Strikes Back).

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