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Dustin Putman

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The Perfect Storm (2000)
3 Stars

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Cast: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, John Hawkes, William Fichtner, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Rusty Schwimmer, Allen Payne, Karen Allen, Bob Gunton, Cherry Jones, Dash Mihok, Christopher McDonald, Janet Wright, Josh Hopkins, Michael Ironside.
2000 – 129 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for profanity, violence, and intensity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 1, 2000.

Wolfgang Petersen's "The Perfect Storm," is a slam-bang, pulse-pounding action thriller that has the clear distinction of creating the most realistic and horrifying storm ever put to celluloid. This is appropriate, of course, since it is based upon the worst storm in recorded history that fell upon the New England border in October 1991, when three weather patterns (a cold front, a low-pressure system, and a hurricane) collided. With the awesome technology of Industrial Light & Magic, Petersen has crafted a technical masterpiece that puts you dead-center in the storm, surrounded by visual effects that never once call attention to themselves, and are always nothing less than believable.

The humans involved in the catastrophe hold no such scrutiny, but they are adequately developed enough that we care about them when their lives become in peril. The film focuses on the plight of the Andrea Gail, a boat holding a crew of fisherman from Gloucester, Mass., who have set out on the open seas for one last attempt to earn some extra money by catching swordfish. When skipper Billy Tyne (George Clooney) decides to travel to the faraway Flemish Cap for one last round of fishing, despite the warnings of friendly rival Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) that they will have no way of getting back without passing through the storm, Billy's pride and ego get the best of him. With the agreement of the other men on board, including Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), whose loving girlfriend, Christina (Diane Lane), waits nervously on land, they opt to ride out the storm rather than let all of the fish they have caught spoil. What they don't know, since their radio has gone out, is the full force of the storm, and that they are heading right for the eye of it.

Accurately capturing each side of the storm, and the people involved in it, there are also four subplots at hand: the dilemma of the search and rescue helicopter team; the plight of the Mistral, a yacht headed for Bermuda that is carrying three passengers (Karen Allen, Bob Gunton, Cherry Jones); the Andrea Gail's friends and family, who nailbitingly await any news on their rescue; and the meteorologist (Christopher McDonald) who first coined the phrase, "The Perfect Storm," because every weather pattern was in place to create a storm of disastrous proportions.

Based on the book of the same name by Sebastian Junger, "The Perfect Storm" is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that is one step above most disaster pictures of its type because of the reality that is brought to it, both from a visual standpoint, as well as in its portrayal of the working-class characters. While not all are developed satisfactorily, particularly the three passengers on the Mistral, as well as suave, ladies' man Andrea Gail traveler Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne), they all are on hand to create a dark atmosphere and brooding sense of dread that hangs over the proceedings.

As head of the Andrea Gail, George Clooney is well-cast as the no-nonsense Billy Tyne, whose love of fishing outweighs all other things, including the possibility of death. Their second film in a row together (the other being 1999's "Three Kings"), Mark Wahlberg equips himself nicely as Bobby Shatford, a young man who tells Billy at one point, "I have a girl that I can't stand to be away from for more than ten minutes. But then again, I love to fish." Bobby has agreed for Christina to do away with his somewhat dangerous profession after this one last trip, and the conflicting feelings that he feels is made palpable, due to Wahlberg's strong performance.

Rounding out the large cast is the always-good Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as Linda Greenlaw; Diane Lane, as Christina; John C. Reilly, heartfelt and likable as Andrea Gail fisherman Dale Murphy, who is having problems handling not being able to see his young son as much since he separated from his wife; William Fichtner as bad-tempered Sully; and John Hawkes as the lonely Bugsy. As Irene, a straight-talking, yet sweet, single mother whom Bugsy strikes up a potential relationship with before he sets off on the Andrea Gale, Rusty Schwimmer is a charismatic, natural standout, and steals each of her scenes.

All human actors, however, play second banana to the star attraction of the picture, which is the robust, life-threatening storm itself, complete with downpouring rain, violent lightning, and, in a startlingly frightening climactic moment, a 100-foot tidal wave. The special effects supervisors at ILM have done a striking job bringing the storm to life, in all its horrific glory, and it is because of them that most warrants seeing it on the big screen.

"The Perfect Storm" isn't a great motion picture. There are too many loose story threads and one too many artificial and cliched lines of dialogue for such a title. The picture also, perhaps, takes just a little too much time getting to the storm, and fleetingly tests the patience. Once it gets going, though, it never lets up. As a purely visceral experience, "The Perfect Storm" is an electrifying powerhouse, undoubtedly the most exciting and rewarding action-thriller of the summer.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman