It Blows but it Doesn't Suck
When "The Perfect Storm" hit the big screens back in 2000 I had absolutely no interest in seeing it, which was more to do with George Clooney being the star rather than anything else. But after being forced into watching it by a Clooney fan I have to say I really enjoyed it, and funnily enough the Clooney fan was slightly disappointed. Based upon the book of the same name, which is basically an account of the freakish storms which in 1991 hit the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, "The Perfect Storm" tries to bring to life the devastation that the storm caused to the fishing community through the eyes of a group of fishermen caught up in the middle of it.
Having suffered the humiliation of returning to shore from another failed fishing trip, Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney - Batman & Robin) decides to take his boat, the Andrea Gail, out for one final time this season, in hope of finding a decent haul of Swordfish to restore his pride. With the aid of his crew, they set out beyond the usual fishing waters of the Grand Banks and head further on to the Flemish Cap. But unbeknown to them a freakish weather system is forming behind them, creating deadly sailing conditions. Having managed to haul in what looks like a record amount of Swordfish they set sail back for home but as they hit the weather front, they have to decide whether to attempt to ride through the storm or avoid it and risk their haul of fish becoming old and worthless. At the same time a small sailing vessel is caught in the midst of the storm, forcing the coast guard to risk life and limb to rescue them.
What is quite surprising about "The Perfect Storm" is that for me the idea of watching a film which revolves around the world of sea fishing looks quite unappealing. But in fact the film is not so much about the fishing but more about the power of the storm, using the focal point of the fisherman to carry the story. In fact the storyline is brilliantly constructed where we get a glimpse at what life is like for these commercial fishermen. We see the affect that bringing in a small haul of fish has on their self esteem as well as their pockets, and also the emotional stress they endure as they have to choose between their families and their love of the sea. What is really good about this side of the storyline is that it draws you in and you start to feel attached to the characters in the film. It is even more amazing as the film does not really dwell on this aspect and before you know it you are launched into the main thrux of the movie.
Once we have gone past the initial set up and been introduced to the main characters and their own personal issues. We move into the first half of what is essentially a two part story where we get to see what life is like for the fishermen aboard the Andrea Gail. Although not overly relevant to a film about a storm, the feelings of cramp ness and tension that these men suffer living in such close proximity to each other is brilliant viewing. At this point the film expands on some of the characters as we learn about the issues between two of the men which causes fighting in the ranks. But what is more impressive is the feeling of depression these men get when they struggle to find a decent haul of fish. I honestly would not have believed that this half of the story would have been such interesting viewing but it really grabs you and sucks you into the atmosphere. Even a scene which features them hauling in a shark by accident is well shot and interesting, although I feel this was added more to pump up the action element than to make the story realistic.
Also featuring in this half of the film is a subsequent storyline about a small yacht which although an important part of the overall storyline in the fact that the coast guard are called out to rescue them in the second part, is never overly used and feels more of a distraction than of any real interest.
Having gone through what is a brilliant first half of a film which really draws you in and makes you feel involved in what is going on, we then enter a very powerful second half which focuses in on the destructive power of the storm. Now although the film becomes wrapped up in some impressive action sequences as we watch the fishermen on the Andrea Gail tackle the mother of all storms, the film still manages to keep you emotionally involved with the characters. In fact I felt even more drawn to them as you can feel the fear that they go through as they are near on helpless against the storm. In a similar way to a rollercoaster, this side of film takes you through the peaks and troughs of emotion as you start to feel that they are through the worst just to see them come across another even bigger wave.
It is in the second half that the film loosely ties in the storyline of the small sailing boat into the main one via the coast guards who are forced into the rescue attempt but again although true to the book does feel like a distraction. What is also very well displayed in this second half is the shear power of the storm, and although you can occasionally tell where the film becomes CGI enhanced in general the effects are brilliant, even more so when experienced on the big screen.
Another surprise for me was the effectiveness of the cast who had been picked for the film, as I originally felt that the inclusion of George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg were not necessarily a good choice of actors to play these characters. Well I definitely have to eat my words as it is the sensitive but powerful performances from these two which really makes this film quite good. I was expecting a lot of cliché acting where instead of showing realistic emotion we would get an over the top, camped up performances but I was treated to some fine performances. But despite a couple of cliché scenes towards the end, the acting in general was really good and not just from the main stars. The dispute between fellow fishermen Murph and Scully is brilliantly enacted by John C. Reilly and William Fichtner giving the film as well as their characters some welcome depth. Add to this some touching performances from the family members which the fishermen leave behind and I have to say that I really enjoyed all the performances from all the stars, even George Clooney.
What also is a key factor to the success of this film is the work of director Wolfgang Peterson as well as composer James Horner. Firstly, Peterson has done such an amazing job of making what is basically an action movie, but one which makes you feel attached to the plight of the characters. Most films within this genre focus too strongly on the action and special effects, where as Wolfgang has managed to combine both action and plot beautifully together. This is enhanced by the beautiful musical arrangements which help take you on the emotional journey, from the powerful soundtrack accompanying the action to the subtle music used initially when the sailors are back home.
What this all boils down to is that for a film which I had not been interested in seeing, I have to say I love "The Perfect Storm". Unlike many film critics who have panned it for being boring and sentimental, I actually enjoy this side of it and feel that it makes a good accompaniment to what is basically an action/ disaster movie.