A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 528 – The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm – August 10th, 2011

This movie was one we got sort of by accident, along with another movie, and we’d been hanging onto it because it’s long and we weren’t terribly interested in it. But it’s got a bit of local interest for us, being set in New England, and I admit, I do have a thing for accounts of real disasters. Still, this wasn’t a disaster I was particularly interested in and it’s not one I’ve read about. After watching the movie, I think I’d be curious about reading the book it’s based on, but even more so I’d be curious about reading the memoirs of Linda Greenlaw. That doesn’t say a heck of a lot for the movie, but really, it’s an odd piece of cinema.

To be honest, this movie reminds me of nothing so much as Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (the book, not the movie) in that going into it I knew exactly what the outcome would be. The whole point of the story isn’t whether or not anyone will come through this. It’s how the events unfolded and why it happened and how. The thing about Krakauer’s story is that he was there. Yes, his account of events is flawed, as he himself acknowledges, and it’s missing things like specific reasons why certain people were where they were when they died. But it takes into account survivors’ stories, including his own, to piece together what’s there. And the trouble with this movie is that it simply doesn’t have that sort of material to latch onto and it makes the whole thing feel like it has less impact for me because of it.

Based on the real events of the huge storm that happened in October 1991, the story mostly follows a crew of swordfish fishermen who leave from Gloucester, MA and get caught in the storm. A huge part of the movie is introducing the six man crew and getting to know them and sympathize with them as characters. We meet the captain, Billy Tyne, and learn that he’s a good fisherman but he’s been in a slump lately. We meet his crew, from rookie Bobby to ship’s steward, Murph. We learn about their families and troubles. We see that Bobby wants to save up so he and his girlfriend can get a place of their own and try to get custody of his girlfriend’s kids. We find out Murph has a son who misses him and an ex-wife who still cares about him but can’t be with him. We meet a few others, we get some ideas of their lives, and then out they go on a bid to bring in more fish than they did on the last trip to try and turn things around.

Now, I read up a little during and after watching the movie and the whole thing about Tyne being in a slump wasn’t really true. For the movie’s sake, it makes for a better story to have him be desperate to bring in a good haul. Otherwise it looks more like hubris than need, and you can’t have that in your movie’s tragic hero. So they changed that, and I get it. I get why things were done for the sake of drama for the story. The thing is, once you start altering things like that, you’re on a slippery slope.

The movie starts to really suffer for me once the crew is out on the ocean and the storm starts to kick up. Oh, I’ve got no trouble with the Action Meteorology! sections. It’s that the movie fractures and ceases to be just about these fishermen and their inevitable fate. And it just gets messy, which is incredibly frustrating. After spending so much time getting to know these guys whom we also know all die by the end, we meet two other groups of people caught in the storm: A trio on a yacht and a helicopter rescue team. And we know nothing about them until we meet them mid-storm. We don’t get to know their families or their reasons for being out in such weather. For the rescue team, well, it’s their job. But there’s nothing to humanize them. They all wear similar helmets and uniforms and I’m sad to say they end up being pretty interchangeable to me. And then there’s the trio on the yacht. Why are they out there? Why do they stay out there? Why is this even included in the movie? I get that in the book there is mention of a group who were on a yacht and who got rescued by helicopter. I get that they gave accounts of the storm and the conditions. But they add almost nothing to the narrative of the movie. If anything, they make it weaker, because these three, one of whom insisted they stay out in the storm because he owned the yacht and he said so, survive. The people with no good reason to be out there make it through and the folks we’ve gotten to know don’t. Maybe it was an attempt to make the deaths of the fishermen all the more tragic, but it just ended up irritating me. And it takes up a huge amount of time.

The other problem here is that once the Andrea Gail is out of range of any of the other boats, there’s really no record of what happened on board. In reality no one knows what happened. No one knows how well they were doing or what took them into the storm. No one knows what happened on board or whether anyone fought with anyone else or went overboard and was rescued. The events on board, which make up a good chunk of the later part of the movie, are entirely fictionalized. And again, I get that this is a movie and it wouldn’t really work as a film if it took us to the point where the Andrea Gail drops out of contact and then pops back on with the news reports of their assumed deaths. The thing is, there’s a whole bit with Billy telling Bobby he’s a natural fisherman and billy going down with the ship while Bobby rises to the surface. And I can’t help but wonder why, if this movie was going to go to such lengths and fictionalize so much, it didn’t just go whole hog and have a miraculous survivor? It wouldn’t have been a good choice, in my opinion, but it would have fit the fictional version of the story. It’s just a strange mish-mash of a movie.

Despite this movie’s flaws, when the end came, with the crew of the Andrea Gail facing the rising water, then the families gathered in church acknowledging that their loved ones have no graves, I found myself fighting tears. In some part it was the movie’s doing, as I think the performances of the cast members at the end are all very well done – William Fichtner in particular, who showed a perfectly quiet resignation – but not all of it. A lot of it was growing up near the water and paying attention to maritime lore. I am reminded of sea chanties at the end of this movie. Songs about ships lost at sea, their fates unknown (one such is Lady Franklin’s Lament, though details of Lord Franklin’s expedition were later found). It’s not the movie. It’s the fact that as fictionalized as this movie is, the situation of a ship lost at sea, leaving families and friends to mourn loved ones who never came home, is not fiction. Living on the coast, seeing storms hit the beaches, having sailed through tame seas that still made my stomach churn, it’s poignant to me. So I’ll give the movie credit for evoking enough of that in me to bring tears to my eyes.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Perfect Storm

August 10, 2011

The Perfect Storm

I had no intention of buying this movie. I had no particular interest in watching it. When we were shopping for shark movies, however, it was part of an inexpensive two pack with Deep Blue Sea that we bought at the FYE at our local mall before they went out of business. So it ended up in the collection and so we’re bound to watch it.

The reason that I never bothered to watch this movie was that I knew how it was going to end. I suppose just about everybody who watched this knew how it was going to turn out, since it was a highly publicised true story about a swordfishing boat that was lost with all hands during a colossal storm off the New England coast. So why, I wondered to myself, would I allow myself to watch a movie that spends most of its time humanising these man, letting us become invested in them, their lives and their troubles, when I know from the start that they’re going to all die before the movie’s over?

I suppose that this could have been presented as a kind of disaster movie. I do enjoy watching those. Things like Earthquake or Twister which have forces of nature violently destroying stuff. I enjoy that kind of movie, even if I know that nobody’s going to make it out alive. But this movie isn’t that. Oh, sure, it has the wrath of Mother Nature as a series of events converge to drive “the perfect storm” against the Gloucester coast, but it’s presented much more as a human story about a small group of characters and the people waiting at home for them.

The first two thirds of the movie is entirely concerned with showing us these hearty fishermen and the way that their demanding work has made it hard for them to live normal lives. There’s George Clooney as Captain Billy Tyne, the skipper of the doomed Andrea Gail. He’s upset because he hasn’t been able to find the fish lately as well as he used to be, and is driven to go further out to sea than perhaps is wise with an approaching storm in an attempt to redeem his good name. There’s the young rookie Bobby Shatford played by Mark Wahlberg, who has fishing in his blood, but who has a young girlfriend waiting at home that he would be willing to leave the sea for, if only he could make enough on this one last run to help her live as he thinks she deserves. There’s Dale Murphy (the distinctive John C Reilly) whose wife has left him and who wants only to be able to spend time with his son. There’s Bugsy, the mechanic, and Alfred, the ethnic one, and Sully who only comes along because Captain Billy needs another hand, and who has some kind of bad blood with Dale.

We meet them and their families and learn all about their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Then we get a whole lot of manly male bonding stuff as they battle the elements and the capricious nature of their prey on the ocean. I’ve seen enough Deadliest Catch to be pretty familiar with the ebb and flow of this battle, with the fish biting some times and long periods of disappointment as well. (Indeed as I watched this I very much wanted to put the Deadliest Catch game into my X-Box and play it for a while. It’s now so much a game actually as a very complicated crab fishing simulator.) Then of course there’s the storm itself.

Naturally, since nobody on the Andrea Gale actually survived to tell the tale, virtually everything that happens in this movie is pure fiction. The character names are actual people,and it’s likely that much of what we see about their relationships is drawn from fact, but everything that happens on their final voyage is pure speculation. Dale being pulled overboard by a hook through his hand. The ice machine crapping out. The big action set-piece where one of the anchors they’re using to keep the ship stable as they battle giant waves comes loose and starts smashing up the boat. All of that is just there for dramatic effect. he only thing that is actually known is that the boat went out too far and didn’t make it back.

I have no doubt that all the disasters depicted are actual real things that happen on swordfishing boats. I’ll admit that although I’ve watched most of the first three seasons of Deadliest Catch I’ve never watched Swords, which is the same show but with boats like the Andrea Gale hunting swordfish off the New England coast. Still, there’s the feel of truth to much of this – but that didn’t really draw me into the movie. Instead it made me want to watch Swords so I could see actual people dealing with these actual problems. I think I would have enjoyed that more than the Hollywood version.

Another problem this movie has is that it tries to introduce a whole host of other characters that are not really related to the Andrea Gale. I can understand putting the television meteorologist in who has to do all the exposition about how so many factors are coming together to result in this disastrous storm. But then there’s a family that sails into the hurricane and has to be rescued by a coast guard helicopter (the same chopper that goes down later trying to reach the Andrea Gale.) They distract from the main story of the film and feel like padding, which is too bad because I love seeing Karen Allen getting work. An awful lot of time is spent following the crew of the coast guard cutter and helicopter that also feels like a distraction. There’s even a lengthy refueling scene which will remind any MST3K fan of Starfighters and it’s interminable refueling montages.

I spent a whole lot of this movie wishing I was watching something else. I suppose that’s the main problem I have with it. It made me want to watch Swords or Deadliest Catch. It made me want to see other “nature attacks” style disaster movies. All the wonderful and recognisable actors in the cast made me want to stop this and watch other movies we own starring those same people that I enjoyed more. I’ll admit to a tear or two at the end when the movie gets super manipulative and tries its damnedest make you break down sobbing, but I mostly resented the movie for its manipulative ways by then. About the only good thing I can say about the film is that it has some pretty good special effects (although some of the digital waves are not completely convincing) and that I was quite relieved that George Clooney didn’t attempt to do an authentic Gloucester accent, which would have been painful. I would have spent the whole movie thinking “These people want to see a lobster.”

August 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment