Film Analysis | Film Reviews | Massachusetts

‘The Perfect Storm’

1 Jul , 2000  

Written by Chris Cooke | Posted by:

A review of film shot in Gloucester, Massachusetts

These days it seems that weather has become Big News. Weathermen across the nation keep us informed of all the hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic and help us track their movement as they wander into the Gulf of Mexico or meander up the Atlantic Coast, leaving floods and wreckage in their wake. Weather correspondents deliver their reports from wind-ravaged piers and streets, debris and street signs furiously in motion in the background.

And at least once each hurricane season, we are all sent scurrying to the supermarket to stock up on the necessary supplies. And yes, we know, when the storms hit, they hit big — but nine times out of ten all we have to show for the storms (thankfully) are pantries stocked with batteries, bottled water, candles, and canned peaches.

Lately, though, the biggest weather news has been Wolfgang Peterson’s new movie, "The Perfect Storm," based on the book by Sebastian Junger, which, in turn, was based on actual events. The movie centers around the fate of the Andrea Gail and its crew, who set out from the port of Gloucester, Massachusetts on a swordfishing expedition. To keep things interesting, the plot occasionally shifts to cover the daring Coast Guard rescue of a sailor and his passengers foolishly trying to ride out the storm on their way to the Bahamas.

Disaster movies tend to be high on action and low on character development, and Peterson, to his credit, spends a good bit of time introducing us to his characters and filling us in on the details of their lives. Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) is a man at home with the sea, plagued by his recent swordfishing slump — a determined man of general good disposition but always ready to use psychological bullying tactics to get his way. His primary competition and companionship come from Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), whose ship always seems to bring in a bigger haul. Of his crewmembers, the standout is the rookie fisherman Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), a young man enthralled with life yet torn between his love for his fiancee Christina (Diane Lane) and his fascination with the sea. But despite Peterson’s efforts, the characters’ seem crudely pasted into the story, and their relationships, desires, and conflicts feel more staged than real (the lack of chemistry between Clooney and Mastrantonio is particularly noticeable).

When character development is most effective, the audience intuitively understands how a person’s character will shape how he or she responds to crisis. Consequently, movies — even action movies — are only genuinely powerful when their characters’ responses to conflict matter. But for the most part, when confronted by elemental forces of wind, rain, and sea, the crewmembers here are interchangeable, tossed to and fro like dolls. As in many other action/disaster films, the subtleties of character are for the most part reduced to simple knee-jerk fight-or-flight reactions. Perhaps this is the point, but it doesn’t make for compelling filmmaking. The fact that the movie is based on real people lends it far more emotional weight than anything actually in the movie itself.

Indeed, too much of "The Perfect Storm" seems rather routine — the standard conflicts between crewmen, the typical time-to-separate-the-men-from-the-boys talk when the crew petitions Clooney to head back, the expected scenes of anxious loved ones gathered together back at home, their obligatory confrontation with the profit-driven boat owner, and all the necessary foreshadowing of doom.

The special effects are spectacular, of course — even breathtaking. Ships are tossed and turned like rubber duckies in a hot tub. And the movie is packed with thrills and adventure. It certainly won’t disappoint, as long as you keep your expectations at a moderate level (a practice the American movie audience has long grown accustomed to employing). And the film does have its moments, in particular a climactic shot of Bobby, at once dwarfed by the towering, violent sea and yet made large as his passion for life reaches its peak, his two loves — his woman and the sea — united at last in his mind (a rare instance in which a character’s reaction to crisis actually does matter).

"The Perfect Storm" is, at bottom, not much more than a better-than-average effects-driven action/disaster flick. Like all those hurricanes we hear so much about that always seem to land on someone else, "The Perfect Storm" looks ominous on the horizon, but passes with only an exciting yet ultimately forgettable blustering of air. To those who lost family and friends in the storm, the film is certain to be devastating; the rest of us will most likely watch with compassion, then let it fade into memory.

‘The Perfect Storm’ can be purchased at

'The Perfect Storm' can be purchased at