The Perfect Storm (12)
MACHISMO in the movies can take many forms, but rarely does it go so spectacularly head-to-head with nature as in Wolfgang (Das Boot) Petersen’s seafaring epic The Perfect Storm.
Based on a true story, The Perfect Storm, as realised by director Peterson and writer Bill Wittliff, is a thrilling, white-knuckle ride into the very beating heart of the ocean as a tiny fishing vessel, the Andrea Gail, and her six-man crew battle the elements in a search for a big catch.
While certain events bear the hallmark of the Hollywood scriptwriter’s rose-tinted pen, there is a fundamental truth at the heart of The Perfect Storm which salutes the courage, tenacity and plain bloody-mindedness of the men and women who make their living from the sea.
George Clooney plays Billy Tyne, a veteran captain whose swordfish catches have become smaller with each successive voyage. Needled by his peers, frightened that he may have lost his touch, he persuades his tired crew to embark upon another trip within days of returning to shore.
The quintet of fishermen provides ample room for stereotype spotting: there is the lovelorn loser (John Hawkes), the doting dad (John C Reilly), the lazy landlubber (William Fichtner), and the token black man (Allen Payne).
The final crewman is Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), along for the voyage only because he needs the money to set up home with beautiful Christina (Diane Lane). It’s his last trip; on returning home he’ll give up the sea forever.
On a different boat, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio provides a guest spot as the female captain who has her eye on Clooney.
But what neither the crew of the Andrea Gail, nor their loved ones, know, is that they are sailing into one of the worst – perhaps the worst – storms the Atlantic has ever seen. With their minds on a monster catch and equally monster payday, they chug blithely on, unaware of the churning demon, which awaits them.
Much has already been made of the impressive CGI effects which form the core of this nailbiting drama, but special effects alone would not be enough to keep this movie from sinking – there has to be character too.
Thankfully, Petersen has selected a group of performers who can act as a tight ensemble – and that particularly goes for Clooney. Eschewing the standard heroics of most Hollywood fare, Clooney instead plays a man driven by insecurity and self-doubt, forced into a trip no-one wants to make by frustration and stinging professional rebukes. “I always find the fish!” he yells at one point, more for his own benefit than anyone else’s.
As the storm builds, so does the tension – both on-screen and off it. Petersen casts the ocean as a living thing – angry, enraged, and resentful. It is the real star of the picture, and when the effects start to kick in, it provides magnificent, thrilling entertainment.
From the outset one makes mental bets on who will die, and various edge-of-the-seat moments – a man overboard, a shark attack and a massive rogue wave – are all harbingers of the epic drama to come.
I say The Perfect Storm is epic simply because it is. As Clooney and Co battle ten-storey waves the countdown begins to what appears to be inevitable disaster: human resilience against the overwhelming power of nature. “She’s not going to let us out,” mutters Clooney, as the full force of the storm becomes apparent.
As an endurance test, it has rarely been equalled. And as disaster movies go, this one is a tsunami.