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USA 2000
Directed by
Wolfgang Petersen
120 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Perfect Storm, The

Wolfgang Petersen returns to the territory of his 1981 breakout hit Das Boot, that territory being The Great Briney but on top of it rather than underneath (well, for the most part) as was the case for the earlier film. The other major difference is that the struggle for survival is not with British destroyers but Nature herself.

The hard lives of the ocean-going fraternity is a common theme in literature and film combining grand themes of man vs. the elements with the dedication of the brave men who risk their lives for little reward and the families who await their return.  It’s potentially gripping stuff, but when the fishermen are played a bunch of Hollywood A-listers it is immediately in jeopardy. Given that Petersen has a fondness for genre familiarity, both verbally and visually, despite his flair for action he is not the director to overcome the dangers of marquee casting

This is eminently obvious in the scene-setting opening in which two fishing trawlers return to Gloucester, Massachusetts. The one that will concern us is the ‘Andrea Gail’, which is captained by Billy Tyne (George Clooney). Petersen uses the homecoming celebration to introduce us to the main characters Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), Murph (John C. Reilly), and Bugsy (John Hawkes) amongst others including Diane Lane, who not only is the most improbable fish wife you’re ever likely to see (and it’s impossible to believe that she’s with Wahlberg, not Clooney). Setting aside the sight of mutilated swordfish, no doubt intended to establish authenticity, the result is an array of hard working, hard drinking working-class types dreaming about their pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow, the salt-of-the-earth breed that Bruce Springsteen sings about (obligingly on the soundtrack along with likes of Rod Stewart and ZZTop).

No doubt Petersen was familiar with John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven (1960) for The Perfect Storm follows a similar pattern once Billy decides to return to the ocean going dangerously far afield and into serious trouble, adding to his crew of above-mentioned salts,Sully (William Fichtner) who oddly but for narrative purposes conveniently enough, intensely dislikes Murph.

Das Boot was a German-language film with a cast that was largely unknown to Anglophones and these things probably helped us to be less aware of Petersen’s dependence on cliché whilst the brilliant cinematography (John Seale is the D.O.P here) and editing that captured the confinements and dangers of life in a wartime submarine, swept all before it.  This is not the case here. As narratively routine as Das Boot often was, The Perfect Storm is even more obviously and, at times, laughably so and although we can be glad enough to be in our armchairs, there are too many shots in the climactic storm that obviously are enacted in a giant tank and others that are significantly dependent on CGI (there is also a sub-plot involving a luxury yacht whose sole purpose is to justify a hair-raising helicopter rescue).




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