The Perfect Storm

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, Diane Lane, William Fichtner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and scenes of peril.

Review by Matt Heffernan
July 2, 2000

When a director makes a film that involves a great deal of water, they usually avoid that kind of project in the future. Spielberg got it over with early in his career with Jaws. Luckily for James Cameron, making The Abyss didn't turn him away from Titanic. Wolfgang Petersen found international success in 1981 with his brilliant World War II epic Das Boot. Nearly all of the 210-minute film takes place on a submarine, with water often splashing down the hatch, and eventually breaking through the hull at high pressure. In his last film, Air Force One, he stayed high and dry, but now he has gone and made his wettest film yet.

The Perfect Storm is based on a true story about a crew of fishermen in 1991. Sailing out of Gloucester, the Andrea Gail, commanded by Billy Tyne (George Clooney), went searching for swordfish in the North Atlantic. Having a streak of bad luck, Capt. Tyne decides to go all the way to Flemish Cap, where a great catch is guaranteed.

They indeed find a lot of fish out there, but their refrigeration unit breaks down, and they have to turn back. However, while they were out there, a local atmospheric lull has collided with Hurricane Grace, causing what a Boston weatherman (Christopher McDonald) describes as "the perfect storm" right in the path back to Gloucester. The crew of six decide to brave the elements, partly out of greed and partly out of ignorance, and try to bring back the catch before it spoils.

If you know how this story turns out, as I did, you might think that creating suspense would be impossible. Well, you'd be wrong. The Perfect Storm is by far the most gripping and exciting action film I have seen all year. Petersen is one of those rare geniuses who works in the action genre, despite its poor artistic reputation. This is a true nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller, depicting the ultimate conflict: Man versus Nature. Forget car chases and gunfights; Petersen knows what makes a great action film, and brings it to stunning life on the screen.

Characters? We don't need no stinkin' characters! These are simply real people, and played by the excellent cast as such. Aside from the overly-sentimental sequences in the beginning, the film sticks to the true drama in the story. Clooney and Mark Wahlberg may have their names before the title, but it is the storm itself that is the real star. Petersen seamlessly combines real ocean footage with studio effects to create a very real-looking situation. I'm sure he wished that he had that kind of technology -- and the budget to use it -- in Das Boot, which now looks tame by comparison.

Of course, The Perfect Storm is not a perfect film, and for all its flash cannot compete with Das Boot on a serious artistic level. That's OK, because this is a Hollywood-produced summer action flick, and far superior to most of its peers. So, by all means, go see this picture; it may be a long time before you see anything as good.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Perfect Storm (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
The Perfect Storm (2000) -- VHS
The Perfect Storm (2000) -- DVD
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger -- Hardcover
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger -- Paperback
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger -- Audio Cassette (read by Richard M. Davidson)
The Perfect Storm: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan