After I saw this film the first thing I thought, besides that I NEVER want to be in a boat in any body of water bigger than a bathtub, was “Boy, am I a weenie.” The fishermen portrayed in this film are tough, competent, uncomplaining, and can smoke and drink more than you ever thought possible. I read the true story the film was based on, so I know that this isn’t just a Hollywood version of sailors. These are blue-collar, hardworking people who you come to like and respect, which is why THE PERFECT STORM delivers such an emotional punch. These men and women of the sea put themselves in dangerous situations daily because they love the water, and fishing is what they do best – they just don’t want to die doing it.
Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) is beginning to think he’s lost his edge. He returns from his last fishing trip of the season without catching enough fish to keep the owner of his boat or his crew happy. The youngest and newest member of his crew, Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), is definitely unhappy with his take, but is ecstatic to be back with his girlfriend, Christina (Diane Lane). Another crewman, Dale Murphy (John C. Reilly), happily gives half his earnings to an ex-wife he still loves and their adored son. Then the three men and other members of the crew, drown their sorrows at the local bar. They wish for the big catch that will allow them to settle down, yet worry about when, or if, it will ever come. So Billy decides to take the boat out one more time to soothe his pride and his wallet, even though his crew will be sailing when the Atlantic is notoriously rough.
The rest of the film could be summarized by saying, “They go out on the boat and bad things happen,” but THE PERFECT STORM is much more than that. Interspersed between the travails of Billy’s boat, the Andrea Gail, is the story of other boats trapped out in the raging Atlantic. All were caught in what was referred to as the “perfect” storm; three storm systems coming together to create a monster.
The special effects are phenomenal and believable. Whereas the TITANIC consisted mostly of watching a static ocean break through the hull of a massive ship, the ocean in The PERFECT STORM has a personality all its own, brutally assaulting everything in its path. The “Ocean” should have its own screen credit, because it definitely is the ultimate bad guy.
As soon as the sailors hit the boat, the movie roars until the end. But the scenes in the first half of the film (and anytime they cut to the families on land), have a tendency to bring the momentum to a screeching halt. Overacting is the most obvious reason, with actors thinking that playing tough, blue-collar people means speaking in monotone (Clooney) or screeching like a banshee (Lane). Yet the movie really suffers from a screenplay that’s trying to do too much. Characters have backstories that aren’t explained, so you end up with guys glaring at each other and you never know why. I’d recommend reading the book first – sort of like a Cliff Notes for the movie.
Even so, THE PERFECT STORM is rousing entertainment. Adapting a famous and complicated book is always difficult, and I think the filmmakers gave it a good try. It helps that Clooney and Wahlberg bring out the best in each other, and you can’t say too much about that special effects ocean. Yet the best thing about THE PERFECT STORM is that it will make you stop and appreciate the men and women who risk their lives so you can have a piece of fish. I’ll never look at a swordfish quite the same way again.