Cert: 12 Runtime: 130 mins Director: Wolfgang Petersen Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, William Fitchner and John C.Reilly
C’MON, YOU BITCH!
The Perfect Storm was on TV the other night, it refreshed my brain a bit of how good this film actually was in 2000. Thus the reason it is this weeks blast from the past.It’s a very simple story in the fishing town of Gloucester on the Atlantic coast of America, Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) returns from what should be the final haul of the season with a disappointing catch. He persuades some of the local fishermen to join him for one last trip, a final shot before the season closes at earning enough cash to live comfortably. The crew consists of Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), David Sullivan (William Fichtner), Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne), Bugsy Moran (John Hawkes) and Dale Murphy (John C. Reilly). As the sailors set off on their fishing trip, their friends and families wave them off in silent dread, as they do every time they set sail – knowing that their loved ones are at the mercy of Mother Nature on the deep blue ocean. Once they’re far out to sea, the guys begin reeling in the fish, but their catch yet again is shaping up to be a disappointment. So Tyne takes them out into the middle of the ocean, the Flemish Cap, where they start catching hundreds of gigantic fish. Meanwhile, two ferocious storms collide behind them, making the journey back perilously dangerous. A third storm changes course and adds to the maelstrom, creating the most intense and powerful storm of the century – “the perfect storm”, as an excited meteorologist declares. Tyne’s crew begin their trip back with a full cargo, but unwittingly sail into the middle of this unimaginable storm. They find themselves and their ship – the Andrea Gail – locked in an incredible struggle to stay afloat, while their loved ones back home wait in anguish for them to return.
Wolfgang Petersen set out to create a “real” experience when he took the job of directing this film. He succeeds in almost every sense of the word. Loving attention has been given to the characters, the work of a fisherman, life in Gloucester, and most importantly, to the Storm itself. When you’re watching it, you’re “there,” even if the scene consists only of people sitting on stools at the Crow’s Nest, talking. On rare occasions, the dialogue itself seems forced, though, like it’s people talking in a movie and not in a bar. A minor detail.Because “Storm”‘s creators wanted us to get to know these men and their families well before setting sail, the film takes a long time to really get moving. Once it does, though, you’re grateful you know them as well as you do. The swordfishing scenes–if these guys never swordfished before, which most of them probably have not, I couldn’t tell (Markie Mark pulling the insides out of a big swordfish is about as shocking as a movie gets)–shooting in Gloucester, where it all happened, they knew they’d never be allowed to fake it.Whether it was intentional I have no idea, but what Petersen brings across with the Andrea Gail crew is a sense of true displacement–the overwhelming feeling that you’re supposed to be somewhere else. We’ve all been in these situations, though none as perilous as this one. It’s like leaving for work, getting halfway there, and realizing you’ve forgotten the report you’d worked for days on and is due today. You have no choice: you have to go back and get it and make yourself late for work. You retrieve the report and drive the exact same route back to work and there it is: this powerful sense that this is not the way things were supposed to go. The whole day is now thrown off completely.
These fishermen are having the ultimate bad day. Their captain, Billy Tyne (George Clooney in his best performance ever), has just brought them back from a disappointing two months of fishing. Tyne’s boss (Michael Ironside) knows just what buttons to push and convinces Tyne to return to sea. This is an easy decision for Tyne–all he has is the sea. He’s divorced and his only love is his job. He’d do it for free. His crew is another story altogether. Sure, they love fishing, but they also need the money desperately. Swordfishing is a gamble. Like many industries, you put in a lot of time and resources into it, making many sacrifices, without knowing what the return will be. Tyne’s ‘no guts, no glory’-type speech convinces them to go along for the ride again–only days after they’ve returned from the last run.From the beginning of their journey, the crew members pour the pressure on their captain to make it worth their while. This is a last-minute, unplanned trip. They’re not supposed to be there. Before the storm even hits, the bad karma surrounds them like fog: besides having even worse luck catching swordfish than their last run, one bizarre small disaster after another happens along the way. This approach is what makes William Wittliff’s script so great. He uses these incidents to build the intensity, capping it off with the famed super-storm.I can honestly say that this is the best work I’ve ever seen from ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). Never have special effects been more crucial to a story and executed so effectively. The storm scenes–when the lightning flashes, briefly revealing mountains of black waves–are at once beautiful and terrifying.Petersen brings it all together nicely. He puts his characters (and from what I’ve heard, his actors as well) through hell. As the voyage takes a turn from being an ill-advised journey to transport 64,000 pounds of swordfish back across the Atlantic to being a desperate struggle for survival, you can see it on the characters’ faces: they’ve never been this close to death–and they’re loving every minute of it. How can we not do the same? The best way to pay homage I can think of.