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Grade: C-Perfect Storm, The (2000)

Director: Wolfgang Peterson

Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly

Release Company: Warner Brothers

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Peterson: The Perfect Storm


The Great Wave at Kanagawa , c.1829
The Great Wave at Kanagawa , c.1829
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Forget about any major plot twists for The Perfect Storm. It's loosely based on the Sebastian Junger book of the same name, and on the positive side of Bill Wittliff's screenplay, he does retain some of the basic facts. The movie still focuses on the Andrea Gail fishing boat out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, during the mother of all storms that occurred in October of 1991. He also retains the ending where all six men perish at sea.

Please excuse me if that ruins the suspense for you, but this news story is already well known. I only hope to write enough here so that I can help some people avoid spending more money than necessary on this debacle.

The plot is pure formula, and feels more like a made-for-TV movie than one made for the big screen -- at least before the big drawn out climatic raging sea storm scenes. It may play better as a video/DVD rental that it did in theaters. The overall story line has been done so many times that Wittliff may have written it while asleep:

1. Introduce the ship's crew briefly, but not enough to make them rise above a stereotype.

2. Have a few threads that contain love interests, so that some of the men have reasons for hating to leave their women and reasons for returning to land.

3. Manufacture a little internal conflict between a couple of the men that give you an opportunity for a male bonding at sea moment.

4. Create a few subplots that will show how bad the coming storm is.

5. At sea you will require some severe testing and some happy moments before denouement. Note: (There is a parallel here to Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, except ice is used to replace the sharks.)

6. Keep the dialogue simple so that you don't complicate the plot and make the audience think.

7. Remember that the special effects are the most important thing, and the only thing that you want the audience to remember.

8. The ending cannot be a total bummer. (This is Hollywood) Be sure to add some sappy dialogue to give people hope at the end.
Wittliff has written a few screenplays over the years, teaming with Susan Shilliday on the inane Legends of the Fall. He's also written a couple other scripts for Willie Nelson films that should have been sent straight for the TV screen. His most notable screenplay actually was for the TV mini series Lonesome Dove. Judging by The Perfect Storm, Wittliff should stay with TV drama unless he can collaborate with a good movie screenwriter.

The dialogue is so cliche riddled that viewers will toss their cookies overboard. Christina (Diane Lane) doesn't want boyfriend Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) to go back to sea after coming in with a record low catch, so she tells him ,"It's always about money!" Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) actually says, "The fog's just lifting..." when he realizes that platonic friend Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) has romantic interests. Of course Tyne has to do "what I was made to do," and then below deck when he challenges his men with this tripe: "So this is the moment of Truth. Where they separate the men from the boys!"; This actually is meant as serious drama.

And just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water, Bobby tosses one last series at us: "Hell of a boat; hell of a crew; and a hell of a skipper!" Give Wittliff credit for recognizing parallel structure, but his predictable script make the movie seem longer than its 129 minutes. If only the forces of nature could stop prolonging the agony and hurry up and destroy the little boat.

Of course we expect the long exposition, but the story is so mundane that most of the actors could mail in their performances. The only actor who adds any life to his role is John C. Reilly as Murphy, who shows intensity and complexity with his relationship with his ex wife and son. He's also the chosen one to have the required conflict with another crewmember.

The Perfect Storm should have died a quiet death among the masses, but Warner Brothers resurrected the imperfect movie with an overhyped DVD release. There were a few good special effects, including a couple that jump straight for the audience to make us duck, but these few minutes of eye candy do not make up for the hours of tedium. The end credits dedicate the film to the 10,000 Gloucester men who have lost their lives at sea. Hopefully, some merciful person will come up with a better memorial.

After Das Boot you'd expect a much better film from Wolfgang Peterson, but hopefully more attention will be paid to his masterpiece than the more recent tripe.

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