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The Perfect Storm

Review by Jason Morrison

What exactly qualifies a storm to graduate from low front to The Perfect Storm? I saw a funnel cloud outside of Dayton once, and though it scared the crap out of me, it wasn't perfect. The world's worst tornado struck Xenia, Ohio in 1974 with 300 mile-per-hour winds. Not bad, but perfect? And a category 5 hurricane, much larger than a tornado and able to push a wall of seawater 18 feet high up on land is by definition catastrophic. But it's still not perfect.

Now imagine Hurricane Grace, one nor'easter, and a squall line of the Great Lakes coming together in the open ocean. They do not make polite conversation, but rather tear the crap out of the north Atlantic. This new, uber-storm generates waves (almost) large enough to choke the computers down at Industrial Light and Magic. And most likely it can sink an itty bitty fishing boat out looking for one last catch before the end of season.

The storm is the star of The Perfect Storm. Yes, George Clooney is in the movie. And Mark Wahlberg. But the real reason to see this movie is the weather. It's beautiful. It's terrifying. The effects are absolutely seamless, so well done as to not seem like effects at all. If the image of a tiny boat puttering up a 100-foot wave was not so immediately amazing, you'd believe it was live. People are flung around in the wind like kites. Sheet metal flies off a boat like bits of newspaper. Water seems to rise in columns around the ship, while inside the cabin it looks like maybe, just maybe they're making progress.

If there's ever a good argument to go to a theater and pay $7.50 rather than waiting to rent it, it's movies like The Perfect Storm. There are a few other movies, Twister and Independence Day among them, that are also almost completely worthless unless viewed on a 21-foot screen.

That's not to say the acting or writing of Perfect Storm was terrible, it just wasn't very important. Director Wolfgang Petersen and William D. Wittliff make a fair attempt at adapting Sebastian Junger's book, which I haven't read but understand was painstakingly researched and presented everything from the sailor's hair color to the physics of wave motion.

The story certainly lends itself to moviemaking. Captain Billy Tyne (Clooney) comes back from yet another disappointing swordfishing trip with little in the hold and even less of an explanation for the ship's owner. He decides to go out for one last trip before season ends to try to make up for the poor haul. Among his crew are a young fisherman starting a family (Wahlberg), a kindhearted heavy helping support his ex-wife and kid, a vaguely-foreign loner, a Jamaican guy who gets all the chicks and an ugly guy who gets none.

They all have their reasons for going back out, and despite some early success they hit a bad patch and tempers flare. After a near-disaster involving a fishing hook dragging someone by the hand into the deep, petty differences are put aside and the Captain has a decision to make. Head for the Finnish Cap, where swordfish are sure to be, or head back to safer waters? They head out, mostly unaware of the storm forming directly between them and dry land.

There's also a subplot about some pompous rich guy sailing himself and two others right into the storm and the rescue attempts by the Coast Guard. Despite the pompousness of the rich guy, this was the most dramatic part of the whole film- the selflessness of the Coast Guard rescuers and the risk involved in even making the attempt make it impossible not to root for them to win.

This brings up an important point. While public officials both Democrat and Republican have been working for 50 years to steadily increase the size of our military, the Coast Guard is continuously refused the money they need to modernize and expand operation. The Cold War's over and more Americans use the ocean and Great Lakes for recreation than ever before, yet the agency in charge of the latter loses out to the one in charge of the former?

At any rate, Perfect Storm is one of the better disaster movies to date, refusing to wallow in cheap startle-scares and sticking close enough to the true story so as not to seem contrived. Clooney's performance is kind of strange, everyone else is good enough, but they're all just supporting actors. The real star is the storm. If you're the kind of person who sat at the window as a kid, watching for lightning to strike that old tree in the backyard, this movies for you. But don't even bother renting it. Go to the theater and be amazed.


(Out of five)

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