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 | , , ,

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