This film has a bit of an identity crisis as it’s struggling between being a fictional story, a faithful adaptation of a book, and a true story without any eyewitnesses. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s not good, and a lot of that is due to not knowing which story to tell. As a result, you get another ocean voyage tragedy from Hollywood — due to the success of Titanic (1997) — that’s given the All-American Hero treatment.
The Perfect Storm Review as a Fictional Story
For a film that runs just over 2 hours, we spend the first 30 minutes in an unbelievably saccharine environment — and James Horner’s overblown musical score doesn’t help. The fishermen of Gloucester return home and are all greeted by their fans and loved ones like rockstars. Unlike rockstars (and real life fishermen) however, all of them are upstanding gentlemen.
George Clooney’s Captain Tyne is not a salty seadog, but a romantic. He believes he’s destined to fish… something his employer (Michael Ironside) is starting to question due to the pitiful ROI. Captain Tyne’s lack of success means he has one more shot before he’s canned (like tuna). As his “love interest” tries to lure (ah, ah?) Captain Tyne over to her ship, Tyne explains that they could never be together (or even hook up 😉 as they’d both be fishing all the time. They could never raise a family that way. How sweet!
John C. Reilly plays Dale Murphy, the divorced dad who loves his son more than anything. He also loves the kid’s mother, but apparently she cheated on him. Despite this, he happily gives her all his money as alimony. What a guy!
John Hawkes plays Bugsy, a fisherman who only uses crass pick-up lines because he doesn’t know how to talk to girls. He apologizes to a large woman and then, the next day, she goes to the docks to see Bugsy off. “No one’s ever said goodbye to me before,” says Bugsy with a timid smile. Awww!
Marky Mark plays Bobby Shatford, a man struggling to make ends meet for his woman, Christina Cotter (Diane Lane). Marky Mark is so committed to her, but can’t afford to give her the life she wants, so he’s resigned to fish to give her everything. Tearjerker!
Speaking of Cotter, she fills the role of “strong female character.” She gives Bobby a black eye for shipping out again, and he takes it because he deserves it. Then, despite struggling with money, she manages to rent an apartment (somehow) for her and Bobby when he returns. Her “strength” is further epitomized in her costume which is a red and white polka-dot bandanna and blue collared shirt. Or you know, this:
The only one without sappy screen time is Allen Payne (the black guy), so I assumed this meant he was going to die.
Oh, and there’s William Fichtner as Sully who slept with Dale’s wife. He starts as the antagonist, but quickly redeems himself when Dale is cast overboard and Sully saves him.
In the end, the crew ships out, catches a bunch of fish, and returns through the perfect storm. They try to fight it and in so doing, they all drown. The end.
As a fictional story, I understand this is a tragedy, but it plays as an ironic comedy. The first 30 minutes (reminded me of Deerhunter) showcasing these men and their happy lives despite low income; how all of these men have something to live for; how they’re all inherently good men with extremely forgivable flaws.
To have them all die at the end was probably meant to give pause, but it’s funny because of how hyperbolic the story is. These men are perfect before they set sail meaning they don’t have arcs; they don’t change. In regards to story-telling, it would’ve been better to have these guys as scurvy sea dogs, but with moments of heart. Then, as they face their tragedy, they all come to realize what’s really important. That would be sad; that would be tragic. The fact is however, the story reads like a eulogy, highlighting the men’s qualities and ignoring any flaws.
This is doubly strange since the Hollywood (conjecture-based) story has the men dive head first into the storm. In reality however, no skipper would jump into a war-zone like that — this isn’t a General Custard allegory. In fact, if you look at the facts, the perfect storm happened suddenly — jarringly so.
“Sebastian Junger calls the conditions that Tyne must have experienced as a “shear change, like stepping into a room.” Junger wrote that the dramatic change in weather happened after 7 p.m.”
First of all, the fact that this massive storm happened almost instantaneously is 100 times more scary than anything featured in the film. Not to mention, the fact that this happened so suddenly makes it a tragedy! It was unavoidable! In the movie however, Clooney and his boys see the storm and knowingly dive in head first. Why? Because this is where you separate the Gloucester men from the boys.
Essentially, in the movie, you see Clooney and the fishermen fighting the storm. It’s a movie, it’s a visual medium, you gotta have some action in there, but it does hinder you from empathizing because they brought this on themselves. What’s interesting about that is you could’ve had some very tasteful irony. Script consultant and former Captain of the Andrea Gail, Richard Haworth had his own theory:
“The Andrea Gail was always a wet vessel; she took a lot of water on deck. Once fully loaded with fuel, water and fish, she was very low to the water… In rough waves, with the boat rocking from side to side, the accumulating water on deck heaved the vessel to one side and toppled it.”
Now I’m not sure if the original Captain Tyne was struggling with money, but in the movie he was. This was his last trip to prove his worth. If, by getting a boatload of fish, this led to the ship’s demise, that’s tragic! What’s more is they could’ve bailed out their haul as a last ditch effort to survive; it’d be the definitive moment where they’re no longer fighting for money, but fighting for their lives. But they didn’t.
They even cut out the fact that Bobby had kids of his own which would’ve garnered sympathy outright — which is obviously what they wanted.
But that’s not all…
From my synopsis, you’d probably assume that’s the whole movie… but it’s not. A fourth (maybe more) of the plot is dedicated to the Air National Guard. They save completely irrelevant people on another ship, The Mistral and then consider looking for the Andrea Gail, but run out of fuel and abandon their helicopter. All but one of them are rescued by the Coast Guard…
We don’t learn anything about these guys and they have no impact on our Andrea Gail team. The only possibly reason I can think of for why the Air National Guard was added was to create faux suspense that they might reach Captain Tyne and his crew in time. Instead all this does is add 30 minutes to the running time.
This is doubly weird though because the true story is The Mistral was actually the Satori and was being captained by a drunk. The women on board made the distress call because they thought the captain was making poor judgments. The Coast Guard helicopter (not the Air National Guard) saved them. Then, they got a distress call from Andrea Gail and ran out of fuel before they could get to them.
First of all, in the movie, Captain Tyne doesn’t send out a distress call because he’s an American MAN. Instead his love interest does for him… which wouldn’t mean anything to the Coast Guard — you may as well butt-dial 911.
Secondly, in the movie, they show the captain of The Mistral as white and enlightened! He doesn’t sail with a compass, not because he’s drunk, but because they should go where the wind takes them (hippie much?). Why did they do this? A lack of huevos.
Imagine this All-American tragedy… Captain Clooney sails forward to challenge the forces of nature… and isn’t rescued because the Coast Guard is more concerned about saving the lives of drunken Japanese. It’s a bit more tragic, but adds an ire to it that you’d want to avoid in the year 2000.
If that’s the case, then why include this part of the story at all? It goes back to the main problem of identity. Is the film trying to tell the true events of that day? Or is it trying to tell it’s own story? In it’s indecision, it bobs up and down on the safety line, never achieving greatness or schlock. A potentially worse fate as identity-less.
PS. What was with the dedication to all sailors since 1623 at the end?
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
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