As the format and length of the re-view segments are ever changing to suit each film, there is no reason I can’t continue to do things my way. This week, that is never more apparent, as instead of writing a quick response, then running through little bullet points of interest (which is, admittedly, the easiest and laziest way to re-view these films), I feel I have two more substantial items of business to discuss, ones that are the major basis for why my opinion of this film has changed so greatly in the last ten years. Yes, I will still put up the bullet points (because I’m indulgent), but let’s get to the meat of my response to “The Perfect Storm.”
Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?
It’s better by the biggest margin of this project so far. True, I raised “Gone In 60 Seconds” from an okay actioner to something warm and nostalgic, and I learned that there is a good deal of substance in “Mission: Impossible 2,” but “The Perfect Storm” really opened up for me in a way I never anticipated. So while I liked the film the first time around and subsequently never gave it more than a passing thought, the second viewing really stuck in my brain in a nearly cathartic way. And no movie has yet to do that in this project, so I must give it its due. So why not go right into it?
What’s The Most Important Element That Made The Film Better?
Without question, it’s the first act.
The tragic aspects of the story seem to work better this time around. I wasn’t much familiar with the story the first time around (albeit I, of course, knew the end), so I wasn’t really focused on the first act as much as I was waiting for all the special effects. Now, from a new perspective, the first act feels like it’s about families sending off their men to war. Or, better yet, it’s a skewed version of a western, and these guys are cattle ranchers. Both fit “The Perfect Storm” perfectly with the character archetypes. The “true story” factor certainly doesn’t hurt. I have yet to read the Sebastian Junger book, nor do I think I ever will, so I don’t know how accurate this movie is in comparison to it or the actual truth. But it convinces me almost right away that these are valid versions of the real-life men who lost their lives in this quest — up until the point that they lost radio contact, when the movie becomes speculation.
(The only issue with comparing this to war movies or westerns is that the enemy is not a person or a group of people, but literally man vs. nature. It’s hard to pull this kind of story off without venturing into action, fantasy or sci-fi territory and still impress me, but this is the exception to the rule, at least in my eyes.)
But that’s not nearly enough. The first act is handled with such tenderness, such an admirable looseness in its various narratives, that what could initially seem schmaltzy really brought something out of the actors, the characters, and the events to follow. It’s actually kind of shocking how well director Wolfgang Petersen handles the entire act, because while I think he is a master mainstream director who really knows his craft (“The Neverending Story” is a personal favorite, and with work like “Outbreak” and “In The Line of Fire,” he has shown that he’s capable of taking passable thrillers and turning them into heartpounding nailbiters better than most of his peers), he has never been great with really letting audiences get a feel for his characters. Along with a nearly note-perfect James Horner score that, somehow, sounds like something from the mid-1990s (pre-“Titanic”), the power of the entire film stems from these small scenes and interactions between the crew members of the Andrea Gail and the people back home in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
If these scenes didn’t work, the rest of the film would fall flat on its face. There are some great setpieces once the Andrea Gail sets out for the Flemish Cap — the shark attack scared the fuck out of me, the fishing line mishap is more harrowing than much of what passes for horror nowadays, the wildly swinging anchor is terrifying — but there is less and less characterization as the waves grow bigger and bigger. I understand why this happens, but I wish it didn’t. However, I forgive nearly all of the film’s mistakes in the third act specifically because the first act was so strong, frontloading the stakes so I’m not merely looking at ciphers getting pounded by Mother Nature, but instead three-dimensional people. I wish so much that there was more in the film of the people back home, but the goodwill of everything in the first 30 minutes carried me through the film’s 130-minute running time. It’s a strange thing to actually see happening, and that’s the catharsis I was talking about. It’s nothing new or even special, but it worked.
What’s The Biggest Thing That Doesn’t Work?
Everything onboard the yacht, and half of the rescue team drama. This is the stuff that keeps the movie from being great, and it’s both simple and complicated.
While rewatching the film, I had completely forgotten anything about either of these stories, and that definitely set off an alarm in my brain, allowing me to rewatch these segments and judge them harshly. Ten years ago, I just blocked all of it because it just sat there, but now it works even less because of how extraneous it all is.
Okay, so I understand why they felt they needed to tell the story of the rescue team, as their failed attempts to save the crew members of the Andrea Gail (after succeeding to save the rich people on the yacht) fits neatly into the story and further explains the tragedy of the entire series of events. If they had decided not to tell it, it would have been unfair to the true facts of the story, and we might be left, as audiences, wondering why the hell nobody decided to save them? Here’s the problem: the rescue team stuff is twice as long as it needs to be, and its big emotional beat (the loss of Jonesy) doesn’t register at all. I would rather their stuff be cut down considerably, still existing basically just to appease the sticklers out there. But what if they treated it more like “Cloverfield,” and all of the rescue team facts were limited to the news being given to the families and girlfriends back in Gloucester? It would have played up the helplessness of the characters in re: the movie’s events, and wouldn’t have wasted so much screentime.
This is also my issue with the two scenes starring Christopher McDonald as the meteorologist, back at the newsroom, noticing the perfect storm starting to form. It gives us good exposition, yes, but it’s a tiny blip in the film that never pays off. Why build the sets, pay the actors and waste our time when we could get the same information from the group, back at the Gloucester bar, watching real-life telecasts? It’s simply too much for a movie that is intimate in nature.
Also, why the hell hire known actors like Bob Gunton, Cherry Jones and Nancy Allen to play the yacht folk only to squander any of their skills in a story that goes nowhere? Surely they received healthy paychecks for their small roles, so why not save the money and give the roles to three actors whose careers could use the boost? It takes me completely out of the film. I know the yacht stuff is in the book, and it has apparently caused a small amount of controversy in real life, but that’s no excuse for how much it slows down the main plot.
- I still don’t like how the big image in all the posters, and the big part of the trailer — that is, the “big wave” — is basically the last three minutes of the main plot. It always felt like a letdown when it happened in the story, as if there was supposed to be more. It’s if the poster for “Armageddon” was Bruce Willis crying into a camera, talking to his daughter back on Earth, then blowing himself up along with the asteroid.
- I remember always liking Rusty Schwimmer’s performance quite a bit, and still do. She represents exactly what I love about the first act.
- There should be a subgenre of movies called, simply, “It’s all Michael Ironside’s fault.”
- I can safely say that the job I do cannot ever be affected by weather, nor do I fear it being at any point. So I find choosing this life as something very alien, and cannot entirely relate. But that’s my own damn fault.
- How does Christopher McDonald make his “perfect storm” monologue sound pervy and fetishistic? It’s a fantastic trait as an actor. Dylan Baker is capable of the same thing.
- The shot that goes from Christopher McDonald’s weather screen into the storm is incredible. Far better than the “giant wave” shot.
- I always felt bad for Mark Wahlberg, because I remember the story of him finding out that almost everything in the film once the nasty weather started had to be entirely re-recorded in ADR. His comment involved him being disappointed that he worked so hard on his character’s accent only to realize he didn’t have to worry about it at all until long after filming ended.
- I always like digging on an actor or actress, then realizing I had seen them in plenty of previous films and television shows without knowing. This time, that honor goes to Josh Hopkins, who first made an impression on me with his great work in the underrated “Swingtown” from 2008, and now as Grayson over on “Cougar Town.” Here, he’s one of the two rescue team helicopter pilots, the other being Dash Mihok from “Romeo + Juliet” and a whole lot of other work. Same goes for John Hawkes (“Deadwood,” “Lost”), although he’s been on my radar for far longer.
- The massive amounts of special effects used in this film still works, but some of the exterior shots in the third act look way too CG. Really, most of the shots look just fine, but sometimes it renders humans to look like giant gingerbread men who move in a way that’s just not quite right.
- Okay, I have to call James Horner out on the ungodly song over the end credits, a co-creation with John Mellancamp. It reeks of Horner trying to grab for another “My Heart Will Go On” Oscar.
What Did I Learn From This Experience?
John C. Reilly looks like he belongs on a box of frozen fishsticks. Not as Murph from “The Perfect Storm,” mind you. I’d rather it be Dr. Steve Brule.
“ehhhhh Mr. Gortondingus Fishsticks. They taste like my childhood. [slurred speech] [giggle] For your health.”