The Perfect Storm
Review by Jason Morrison
What exactly qualifies a storm to graduate from low front to The Perfect
Storm? I saw a funnel cloud outside of Dayton once, and though it scared
the crap out of me, it wasn't perfect. The world's worst tornado struck
Xenia, Ohio in 1974 with 300 mile-per-hour winds. Not bad, but perfect?
And a category 5 hurricane, much larger than a tornado and able to push a
wall of seawater 18 feet high up on land is by definition catastrophic.
But it's still not perfect.
Now imagine Hurricane Grace, one nor'easter, and a squall line of the
Great Lakes coming together in the open ocean. They do not make polite
conversation, but rather tear the crap out of the north Atlantic. This
new, uber-storm generates waves (almost) large enough to choke the
computers down at Industrial Light and Magic. And most likely it can sink
an itty bitty fishing boat out looking for one last catch before the end of
The storm is the star of The Perfect Storm. Yes, George Clooney is in
the movie. And Mark Wahlberg. But the real reason to see this movie is
the weather. It's beautiful. It's terrifying. The effects are absolutely
seamless, so well done as to not seem like effects at all. If the image of
a tiny boat puttering up a 100-foot wave was not so immediately amazing,
you'd believe it was live. People are flung around in the wind like kites.
Sheet metal flies off a boat like bits of newspaper. Water seems to rise
in columns around the ship, while inside the cabin it looks like maybe,
just maybe they're making progress.
If there's ever a good argument to go to a theater and pay $7.50 rather
than waiting to rent it, it's movies like The Perfect Storm. There are a
few other movies, Twister and Independence Day among them, that are
also almost completely worthless unless viewed on a 21-foot screen.
That's not to say the acting or writing of Perfect Storm was terrible,
it just wasn't very important. Director Wolfgang Petersen and William D.
Wittliff make a fair attempt at adapting Sebastian Junger's book, which I
haven't read but understand was painstakingly researched and presented
everything from the sailor's hair color to the physics of wave motion.
The story certainly lends itself to moviemaking. Captain Billy Tyne
(Clooney) comes back from yet another disappointing swordfishing trip with
little in the hold and even less of an explanation for the ship's owner. He
decides to go out for one last trip before season ends to try to make up
for the poor haul. Among his crew are a young fisherman starting a family
(Wahlberg), a kindhearted heavy helping support his ex-wife and kid, a
vaguely-foreign loner, a Jamaican guy who gets all the chicks and an ugly
guy who gets none.
They all have their reasons for going back out, and despite some early
success they hit a bad patch and tempers flare. After a near-disaster
involving a fishing hook dragging someone by the hand into the deep, petty
differences are put aside and the Captain has a decision to make. Head
for the Finnish Cap, where swordfish are sure to be, or head back to safer
waters? They head out, mostly unaware of the storm forming directly
between them and dry land.
There's also a subplot about some pompous rich guy sailing himself and two
others right into the storm and the rescue attempts by the Coast Guard.
Despite the pompousness of the rich guy, this was the most dramatic part of
the whole film- the selflessness of the Coast Guard rescuers and the risk
involved in even making the attempt make it impossible not to root for them
This brings up an important point. While public officials both Democrat
and Republican have been working for 50 years to steadily increase the size
of our military, the Coast Guard is continuously refused the money they
need to modernize and expand operation. The Cold War's over and more
Americans use the ocean and Great Lakes for recreation than ever before,
yet the agency in charge of the latter loses out to the one in charge of
At any rate, Perfect Storm is one of the better disaster movies to date,
refusing to wallow in cheap startle-scares and sticking close enough to the
true story so as not to seem contrived. Clooney's performance is kind of
strange, everyone else is good enough, but they're all just supporting
actors. The real star is the storm. If you're the kind of person who sat
at the window as a kid, watching for lightning to strike that old tree in
the backyard, this movies for you. But don't even bother renting it. Go
to the theater and be amazed.
(Out of five)