The Perfect Storm

on June 30, 2000 by Michael Tunison
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   Pitting a boatload of fishermen against the Storm of the Century may not have produced the Movie of the Century, but "The Perfect Storm" nonetheless offers the most seagoing cinematic thrills since a certain unsinkable ocean liner went down.

   Refreshingly, there are no bad guys or contrived plot devices driving this man-versus-nature tale--just the unbridled power of the elements at their most terrifying. Sticking closely to the events chronicled in Sebastian Junger's nonfiction book, the film follows the disastrous results of Hurricane Grace's collision with two other weather systems off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1991, a freak phenomenon that created a tempest of almost unimaginable destructiveness.

   The film necessarily simplifies Junger's detailed factual account, keeping the focus on a fishing boat making a perilous run past the Grand Banks as calamity strikes. Following the traditional structure of disaster films, William D. Wittliff's script uses the first half of the story to set up a bare-bones dramatic situation--the determination of the captain (George Clooney) to end a career-threatening fishing slump, and the various emotional attachments the crew members (including "Boogie Nights'" Mark Wahlberg and "Magnolia's" John C. Reilly) have to those left behind on shore. Once the heavy weather hits at around the film's midpoint, however, the storm itself becomes the star of the show, laying to waste anything unlucky enough to be in its path.

   Director Wolfgang Petersen, a specialist in prestige action flicks from "Das Boot" to "Air Force One," demonstrates his usual knack for suspense, slowly ratcheting up the tension as the hopelessness of the fishermen's situation becomes apparent. While the shots of pitched decks and pounding rain start to get a bit repetitious in the slightly waterlogged last section, the film's commitment to realism makes it a lot more engaging than the fake spectacles Hollywood usually spits out to accompany summer popcorn-munching. Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane and John C. Reilly. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Written by William D. Wittliff. Produced by Gail Katz, Wolfgang Petersen and Paula Weinstein. A Warner Bros. release. Adventure. Rated PG for language and scenes of peril. Running time: 130 min

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