May 18, 2022
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Grade: 38/100

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly

What it's about. Set in 1991. Maine professional fishermen George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, John Hawks, and the underused Alfred Pierre are the crew on the Andrea Gail. They need money, so they make a potentially dangerous journey to the Flemish Cap to fill their cargo with big fish.

Clooney is captain. His loyal crew have had bad luck fishing, and strife increases further due to fictional friction between Reilly and Fichtner. Their Flemish Cap trip proves bountiful, but unluckily, their ice machine fails. The boat is obliged to return early, through Hurricane Grace.

Diane Lane is Wahlberg's wife. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is a rival fishing captain with some romantic interest in George Clooney. Perhaps she had seen his bank account. Tough guy stereotype Michael Ironside is the demanding owner of the Andrea Gail.

How others will see it. The Perfect Storm was a box office success, but drew middling reviews. It did get two nominations at both the Oscars and BAFTA, in technical categories. Today at, the A-list film has 166K user votes, and a so-so user rating of 6.4 out of 10.

But the user reviews are predominantly favorable. "A stellar cast delivers a stellar performance"; "those huge waves frightened me more than most horror movies." So, the film succeeds as a thriller, with its target audience: the mass market.

How I felt about it. I first saw The Perfect Storm in the theaters in 2000. And I have to say, I hated it. My emotional hostility to the film was so string that it proved difficult to write a fair review. Seeing it again, 22 years later, my opinion of the film hasn't changed. It still stinks.

There are actually good things to say about it. No fish were harmed. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio demonstrated that she can act rings around Diane Lane. The latter has aged better than any Hollywood actress ever, but that doesn't mean she can act.

She can't, though she isn't helped by lines like "Did I do that?" while gawking at Marky Mark's shiner. The audience is supposed to laugh at her punching her husband?

Every man on the boat is given a back story. A special someone to return home to. Whether it is the cutest boy in the world, the prettiest fisherman's wife, or in the case of luckless Hawkes, the homeliest woman in the bar (Rusty Schwimmer). As if their lives don't have meaning unless they are loved.

One can judge the film's accuracy by its lawsuits. The families of two men on the doomed boat, Billy Tyne and Dale Murphy, sued Time Warner, and won their case in a Florida district court. Alas, higher courts eventually dismissed the case.

The special effects seem impressive, until one realizes they are merely animation. Though the film states Hurricane Grace was category 5, it was actually category 2 at its peak, and in decline when it confronted the Andrea Gail.

Although based on a true story, none of the characters or incidents really seem genuine. Most likely, the Andrea Gail sank early, at the same time radio contact was lost. The Coast Guard helicopters came much later, and found nothing because the boat was already lost. Hollywood prefers a different scenario, because false drama is more uplifting than mere waste and futility.

The Perfect Storm further errs by diluting the main storyline with two secondary subplots. The first features Karen Allen, whose pleasure cruise with older millionaire Bob Gunton goes awry with the weather. The second subplot stars heroic Coast Guard members risking their lives to rescue stricken sailors. The problem with both of these stories is that the focus belongs with the Andrea Gail.

German director Wolfgang Petersen won deserved acclaim for his 1981 U-boat epic Das Boot. His breakthrough film opened the door to a successful career in Hollywood with big budget action films. But Das Boot is similar to The Perfect Storm only in its tragic ending and nautical theme. The former film provides suspense in a few sonar pings than the latter film makes in an hour of lashing seas. But Petersen cannot really be blamed, because it is the Hollywood system itself that sinks The Perfect Storm.