Judge Clark Douglas has never been to Gloucester. He assumes everyone looks like George Clooney.
No one was prepared for this storm.
"I always find the fish. Always!"
Facts of the Case
Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) has been the captain of a fishing boat for years. He's had a lot of good days, but lately he's been on a cold streak. The fish just aren't biting the way they used to. Billy's boss (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers) doesn't want to find another captain, but he tells Billy that he needs to see some results soon. Determined to prove his worth, Billy pulls his crew together and heads out on another fishing trip. This time, he's going to go a little bit further than he usually does. He knows it will be a little risky, but he also knows he can get the fish out there. What he doesn't know is that he's going to run into a terrifying storm of epic proportions.
Wolfgang Petersen's The Perfect Storm is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Sebastian Junger. It begins by telling the story of a boat captain and a few fishermen heading out to sea, and then it turns into a special-effects extravaganza that is simply too big for little things like characterization to fit into. Normally, I would not be pleased about this. However, The Perfect Storm proves to be one of the most impressively-staged special effects extravaganzas of the past decade, offering perhaps the most effective portrait of a storm ever committed to film.
I have always been a little less than enthusiastic about scenes that depict ships battling storms at sea. In so many movies (something like Hawaii comes to mind), these scenes are noisy, chaotic, dark, and incoherent. You know that there's a struggle going on, but it's all just a bit too indecipherable. That is not the case here. Petersen stages this storm with simultaneous clarity and chaos. It captures the sensation of struggling for your life against a huge storm, and for a full hour gives an intense battle between a little fishing boat and the raging sea (along with an equally exciting subplot about a Coast Guard rescue team attempting to save the passengers of an even smaller boat). The results are frankly pretty gripping; even moreso when you watch it in hi-def.
I watched this film with some small degree of sadness, because it does represent the start of a certain decline for Petersen. Petersen's previous films had an emphasis on character, and they also included some well-staged action scenes. This one dispenses with character development in favor of even more action. It works in The Perfect Storm, but the same approach would turn Petersen's subsequent films (Troy and Poseidon) into painful viewing experiences. Maybe it's better for all of us if we think of The Perfect Storm as the end of a hot streak rather than the start of a bad run.
As I hinted earlier, the movie looks simply spectacular in Blu-ray. The second hour of the film is a tremendous cinematic achievement, and this disc gives the viewer a good indication of just how impressively Petersen pulled this off. We know the whole thing is nothing more than special effects, but it looks so convincing. I was truly pulled into the experience visually. The transfer is clean and solid, and a bit sharper-looking overall than a number of other films I've seen in hi-def from seven or eight years ago. Sound is terrific, too. James Horner's fine score gets a very strong mix early on, and then is later nearly drowned out (no pun intended) by the booming sounds of thunder and crashing waves. Supplements are ported over from the previous DVD release: three commentaries, three featurettes, all worth a look.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Perfect Storm may work its way up to something spectacular, but it takes a while to get going. The early scenes of the guys hanging out in Massachusetts seem a little forced and unconvincing. We hear lots of hokey Gloucester accents and Bruce Springsteen songs. We see George Clooney walking around wearing a checkered flannel shirt and a John Deere cap. It looks like Gloucester, it sounds like Gloucester, but it sure feels like Hollywood pretending to be Gloucester.
The actors are all fine, especially Clooney, but their characters are pretty one-dimensional. Each is handed an external issue or problem that defines them, and that's it. Clooney is upset because he hasn't caught any fish. Mark Wahlberg (I Heart Huckabees) plays a guy who loves fishing, but also loves a woman (Diane Lane, Untraceable). John C. Reilly (Magnolia) has a son back home that he misses. He also fights a lot with a guy played by William Fichtner (who is sleeping with Reilly's ex-wife). Then there's a couple of guys played by John Hawkes and Allen Payne who just sort of hang around. The women have even less to do. Such talented actresses as Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Karen Allen, and Cherry Jones have little to nothing to chew on here. This is a strong cast, but the characters they play could have been played by almost anyone.
Finally, a really random shark attack (!) is just unintentionally funny. It should have been snipped.
I suppose it's a testament to Wolfgang Petersen's skills as an action director that The Perfect Storm is a spine-tingling viewing experience despite the fact that it features a less-than-stellar screenplay and thin characters. If you're going to watch this movie, hi-def is far and away the best way to go. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary w/Wolfgang Petersen
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