Warning: Dramamine Recommended8/10
Yes I know. I've heard all the complaints already. "That's not how it happened" (as if anybody really knows); "All of those events could not have co-occurred on the same boat in the same trip" (as if anybody really knows); etc. etc. Well, here's my answer - it's a movie, just a movie. Don't see a movie to learn about "what really happened" unless the film states very clearly that it is a documentary. Films are, like good books, supposed to tell you something true about people, about things that happen, and about life. They're not (even when they're placed in the documentary shoebox) necessarily about what really happened and how.
The Perfect Storm is a heavily fictionalized speculation concerning the experience of the Andrea Gayle and its crew during the 'storm of the century' in the early nineties. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg head a fine, under-appreciated cast, as regular yankee fishermen, their friends, and family, living in the Massachussetts town of Gloucester (pronounced "Glosta" for those of you from away). Billy Tyne (Clooney) is a once legendary long-line (swordfish) captain who is down on his luck and needs a big catch to bring himself back into the fold. He and his crew set out to find that catch on exactly the wrong day, in exactly the wrong place. The second half of the film is their attempt to get home, and also incorporates Coast Guard rescue action scattered all around the Atlantic during the massive storm.
Having lived in Maine for years, and having gotten myself thoroughly immersed in the ballads of Ruth Moore and the amazing New England Maritime culture, I have to admit that I was predisposed to like this film, despite all of the issues my fellow reviewers have harped on. And no, I haven't read the book, nor do I intend to. Still, in an attempt to be somewhat objective, I gave it an 8 and I'll give it an above average recommendation, but I will also say that my inclination was to give it an 9 or a 10.
This film mixes New England fishery and sailor lore, a few scattered facts about the Andrea Gayle Story, and a lot of dramatic license, to tell a story about the heroism of the average American and their families. It is also an homage to the the New England fishing industry and its traditions. Though it is easy to mistake the real life heroes (the Coast Guard operatives who saved so many lives during that storm) for the heroes of the film, the crew of the Andrea Gayle and their loved ones are the real heroes here - in their valiant efforts to save themselves, their boat, and their catch.
The performances and the script are strong and the characters very well realized (though fictionalized). Wahlberg and Clooney are great. Clooney gives the best performance I have seen him give. Some of the smaller parts deserve special mention - Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Ironside, Diane Lane and John C. Reilly are always very good (or better), but I was unexpectedly charmed by John Hawkes, William Fichtner and Janet Wright.
It is impossible to discuss this film without talking about the amazing special effects. To summarize, the first time I saw The Perfect Storm, I actually had difficulty sleeping because I felt the bed rocking to the rhythm of imaginary waves each time my eyes closed. Had I seen it in a theater, I am convinced that I would have considered popping a dramamine. Although at times exaggerated, this is the best film re-creation of sea storms I have ever seen. Every scene is thoroughly believable and marvelously detailed, even down to the weird patchiness of an incoming torrent often called "the calm before the storm".
Obviously, I liked this film. And I will give it a strong recommendation with a couple of caveats. First - if you're not somebody who appreciates New England culture and understands something of the kind of humble heroism "Glosta Men" (and women) are expected to have, you might not get it completely. Second - if you come to this looking for a story that rings true in the sense of objective history, you have come to the wrong place. Otherwise, sit back with some popcorn and somebody you love, and enjoy the ride.