*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had looked forward to seeing "The Perfect Storm" for the last couple of months. Ever since seeing "Boogie Nights" on cable I've been an enthusiastic Mark Wahlberg fan. Wahlberg and George Clooney had great rapport in "Three Kings," and my expectations for TPS were raised even higher when I learned that John C. Reilly (so terrific in "Boogie Nights") was going to be in it as well. It also sounded like a riveting story.
Well, I am sorry to report that TPS was a major disappointment. 6 stars out of 10, tops. Even though it breaks many of the conventions of the Hollywood blockbuster -- unglamorous characters, unhappy ending -- it ends up being just another big movie where the special effects overwhelm the human side of the story. Not because the F/X are so good (yes, they're impressive, though the computerized water still looks a bit fake much of the time) but because the human side is so badly developed and badly written.
The actors, for the most part, do the best they can with their paper-thin characters. Clooney, I thought, was no more than OK as Captain Billy Tyne (he was much better in "Three Kings"). John C. Reilly, as Murph, was very affecting in the scene with his son, but then after that he had nothing to do except for that stupid feud with William Fichtner's character, Sully (which had no point except to set the stage for the cliche scene where Sully saves his life and they finally bond). Wahlberg, as Bobby Shatford, was excellent in the early scenes with Lane and with his mother (convincing performance by Janet Wright as the mother, but Lane mostly alternates between two one-key modes: shrill and grieving). Once on the boat, though, he and Clooney had surprisingly little chemistry.
What's more, there is a major problem with the characterization of Bobby Shatford, Wahlberg's character. In the scenes with his girlfriend Christine (Diane Lane), it's pretty clear that Bobby wants nothing more than to settle down with her and the fishing's just the best way he can make a living (the safer jobs on land don't pay as much). In fact, he promises her that he's giving it up after this one last trip (and of course, if you didn't already know the boy wasn't coming back, that line was a dead giveaway). Yet suddenly, once they're out to sea, it turns out that Bobby LOVES to fish -- it's not just a living, it's a passion. So which is it?
The crucial scene where the fishermen make the fatal decision to go back through the storm packs little emotional punch, because it is made too easily. Someone (Bobby? Murph?) should have been opposed to it. That would have set up some REAL dramatic conflict, as opposed to the contrived conflict between Muph and Sully.
And the dialogue... dear Lord, the dialogue! If I had a dime for every cheesy line in this movie it would have more than made up for the $5.50 I spent on the matinee ticket. "I thought the sea was your home." "I think she's a helluva boat. -- With a helluva crew. -- With a helluva skippuh." "He's my precious boy and you're the woman for him." Not to mention gems like "This is the moment of truth.... this is what separates the men from the boys," or Clooney's pretentious ode to the glories of being a swordboat captain.
I can't even say that the movie delivers on the promise of white-knuckle thrills. The Coast Guard rescue scenes were good but too long. As for the action on the Andrea Gail, much of it was repetitive (Clooney and Wahlberg getting pelted with water). Frankly, too, this is where knowing that they all die undercuts the suspense.
Yes, there were some very good scenes. The scene between Wahlberg and Lane where they wake up in the morning. The humorous but moving little story line between Bugsy (John Hawkes) and Irene (Rusty Schwimmer), the woman he tries to pick up at the bar. Later on, one scene that was very powerful, both visually and emotionally, was when the sun suddenly comes out and the guys think that the storm is over and they've made it -- only to realize, seconds later, that it's NOT over. That was a lump-in-the-throat kind of moment.
Finally, great scene of the Andrea Gail's demise: Wahlberg swims out of the capsized boat while Clooney stays behind and we see his figure being swallowed by pitch-black darkness; then the boat seems to right itself, only to sink instantly; and there is Wahlberg, a lone speck of humanity in a vast raging sea, amidst hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, giants waves. What a terrifying and poignant image; what a powerful expression of the tragedy of man crushed by nature's wrath. And then the filmmakers had to go and ruin it all with Bobby's maudlin psychically telegraphed speech to his girlfriend -- "Can you hear me, Christine? I love you... there's no goodbyes, only love" -- and the ghostly apparition of Lane in the left corner of the screen. I am not a cynic but there's a big difference between true feeling and mawkish sentimentality. I thought the scene of Kate and Leo's final farewell in "Titanic" was corny beyond belief, but this takes the cake.
And just when you thought it couldn't get any hokier, the movie ends with a replay of Clooney's "isn't it great to be a swordboat captain" speech... it's bad enough that we had to hear it the first time around! I half-expected to see a ghostly apparition of Clooney smiling beatifically at Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio from fisherman heaven.
Bill Witliff, the screenwriter, should henceforth be known as Bill Witless.
Wahlberg deserves a better screenplay. Come to think of it, so does just about everyone else in this movie.
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