Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Perfect Storm

By Marc Savlov

JULY 3, 2000: 

D: Wolfgang Petersen; with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, Karen Allen, William Fichtner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John C. Reilly, Allen Payne, John Hawkes, Bob Gunton. (PG-13, 129 min.)

Summer has now officially arrived, and with it, the first real summer movie of the new millennium. The Perfect Storm is nearly a perfect film, from its bold and epic man-vs.-nature conflict to the breathless scripting, editing, acting, and direction. Even the score, by James Horner, flawlessly evokes the terrible and tragic wrath of the 1991 "storm of the century" that mercilessly hammered away at the Eastern seaboard from Florida to its epicenter off Gloucester, Massachusetts. If you've read Sebastian Junger's bestselling account of that tumultuous squall, then you already know how the tale of the 71-foot swordfishing boat the Andrea Gale ends up. For the rest, I'll keep mum on the outcome; suffice to say there's a memorial in the Gloucester harbor commemorating the 10,000-plus men from that area who've lost their lives to the sea since the 17th century, and more names are added every year. For swordfish-boat Captain Billy Tyne (Clooney) and his crew ­ young romantic rookie Bobby Shatford (Wahlberg), the feuding Sully (Fichtner) and Murph (Reilly), sad-sack Bugsy (former Austinite Hawkes), and taciturn Alfred Pierre (Payne) ­ the final days of October, 1991, are looking grim indeed as they unload their catch after a month at sea. Dissatisfied with the haul, Tyne opts to put back out for another week in the hope of increasing his crew's (and his own) paycheck, and they hesitantly agree. There's word of a hurricane down south, but it's so far away that Tyne and his men ship out with nary a thought except catching more swordfish on their longlines. They head several hundred miles out to the Finnish Caps in the North Atlantic, make their haul, and head back with a broken ice machine (commercial fishing boats are required to keep their catch on ice at all times), racing to get back before their haul goes bad in the heat. On the way back they encounter the storm (actually a confluence of three particularly nasty weather patterns) and instead of heading back out to sea to avoid it altogether, they opt to cut right through it and return with holds swollen with swordfish. The rest, as they say, is history. Petersen directs The Perfect Storm with a visceral gusto not seen since his classic Das Boot. This is a massive, powerful film, and Petersen (with Austinite William Wittliff's nerve-racking script behind him) ratchets up the suspense to a downright shocking level. (My hands were actually sore from clutching my armrests, though I know I had a grim smile on my face the whole time.) Petersen, a master at eliciting tough-as-nails performances, makes believers of us all: Clooney, Wahlberg, Reilly, Payne, and a severely bulked-out Fichtner are all dead-on as these rough and ready seadogs, men who need the sweaty, back-breaking labor they've given their lives over to as much as they need the sea itself. For all its salt-water machismo, The Perfect Storm is, at heart, a three-cornered love affair between the men, the sea, and in the distance, the shore back home. Kudos also to Industrial Light and Magic, whose breathtakingly realistic storm animations are literally flawless, and cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient) and editor Richard Francis-Bruce (Air Force One) ­ two cinematic artisans who, alongside Petersen and Wittliff, have crafted one of the best and most affecting cinematic sea-tales in years.

4 Stars

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