About 5-6 years ago when I discovered my love for movies I had a lot of free time in my college job as a security guard. To kill time I dove into Wikipedia looking up directors, actors, and genres trying to learn as much as I could. I made a list of the movies I wanted to watch and every time I made an amazon order, I threw 4 or 5 blu-rays in my cart before checking out. One movie that I purchased was The Perfect Storm, a disaster film with an impressive cast directed by Wolfgang Peterson.
The Perfect Storm is lame.
After watching an informative and interesting conversation between Joe Rogan and Sebastian Junger on Joe Rogan’s podcast a few months ago, I looked up Junger on the internet. He has written several books and has directed one of the best documentaries ever made, Restrepo. I bought his books and am slowly reading through them. The first book her wrote called The Perfect Storm is what this movie is based on. After finishing the book I watched the movie again to justify the $8 investment I made buying the blu-ray and to see if it was as bad as I remember.
Junger wrote The Perfect Storm with years of research and a high level understanding of the situation. The Perfect Storm title was given to the 1991 collision of two different storm systems in the Atlantic Ocean which resulted in the sinking of the Gloucester sword fishing ship Andrea Gail and the death of its entire crew. Junger was meticulous in describing how rare of an occurrence that type of storm is with well researched and explained details.
I assumed most of the book would be about the Andrea Gail and its crew, but he also describes the fishing culture, the history of fishing in New England, how fishing boats are built, the dangers of fishing, and the rescue missions deployed during the storm to help many people caught in the turbulent weather. Junger describes the rescue mission made by the highly trained coast guards in which they were forced to ditch the helicopter and survive in the stormy ocean. Reading about that helicopter mission was just as thrilling as watching a movie. As the cliché says, the book was better than movie, and that has never been more appropriate with The Perfect Storm.
That cast that convinced me to buy a physical copy of the movie consisted of George Clooney (Solaris, Michael Clayton, Burn After Reading, Gravity) , Mark Wahlberg (Shooter and every movie involving Boston or New England), John C. Reilly (Gangs of New York, The Lobster) William Fichtner (Heat), John Hawkes (American Gangster, Everest) , and Diane Lane (Hardball, Man of Steel). None of their performances were so bad that they were a detriment to the movie, but they failed to add any substance. I like George Clooney but the more I see him act the more I believe he is playing George Clooney instead of his character. This is especially apparent when his character isn’t developed much at all like in The Perfect Storm.
The crew of the Andrea Gail is based on real people who died during the storm in 1991. I understand that makes it difficult to characterize, but The Perfect Storm has zero fleshed out characters. There is little basis for the characters actions making it difficult to get attached or empathize with them.
John C. Reilly is a good example of this. Besides his bad Boston accent, he looks like a grungy fisherman, but other than sporting a messy beard and a dirty flannel, his character doesn’t go deeper than that. At the beginning of the movie it is established that he is divorced from his wife and has a son that looks up to him. Then almost 2 hours later when he is drowning his final words are, “this is going to be tough on my boy.” I forgot the dude had a son until then and I was too busy remembering his family life to feel sad about his death.
William Ficthner was the last minute addition to the crew and he and John C. Reilly hated each other. The rift between the two was never fully explained and every time they fought on the boat it felt forced and fabricated.
The crew of the ship was made to look like little kids who react with extreme emotions on every little swing of good or bad fortune. Every member of the ship is an experienced fisherman who should have realistic expectations. When reeling in the first lines the crew noticed the hooks didn’t have fish on them. They immediately went into a state of anger and depression. Later in the movie after fishing the Flemish Cap catching loads of fish, the crew was ecstatic and joyful. One scene that stood out is when William Ficthner and John Hawkes are filling a sword fish full of ice and they are giggling like crazy and jokingly throw ice at each other. It just felt off and the farthest thing from being real.
The movie did cover much of what was in the book, including the rescuing of a sail boat and the coast guard ditching a helicopter. A lot was going on in the 2 hour movie and the characterization was sacrificed to show as much crazy shit as possible. If the movie only focused on one element of the book it would have been more fleshed out and less cluttered.
I don’t pay as much attention to the score of movies as I should, I only notice when they are exceptional or dreadful. The score for The Perfect Storm is one that stands out for being dreadful. The generic Hollywood epic triumphal music was overused and placed in some strange situations. When Mark Wahlberg climbs to the top of the ship during the storm to check on the antenna, that cheery good feeling music was played. Sure it was a pretty incredible feat that Wahlberg made it to the top of the tower in that situation, but the antenna is broken beyond repair, the cabin windows are shattered, and they are all likely going to die. Why put that music there?
Despite all of the criticisms I just poorly explained, the worst part of this movie is the ending. After deciding to turn around abandoning the plan of riding through the storm, some sun light shines through the clouds and the seas settle for a little bit. Wahlberg says “we are going to make it” and Clooney begins to calm down a little. Then a huge wave appears, flips the boat over and they all die. That playing with expectations was super cheap and unneeded.
Then director Wolfgang feels it necessary to show the crew drowning in the ship. A better ending would show the ship try to overcome the massive wave, fail, and then cut to credits. That would have been a much stronger and effective ending allowing the sinking of the ship to settle in with the viewer and allow them to contemplate the crew drowning. No one knows how the crew died as the ship was never located and that is a huge aspect of the tragedy the family members experienced. They still held hope for weeks that the crew may still be alive and never received definitive proof of their death. They had to struggle with not knowing how they died or if they suffered. Even on a much smaller and less powerful level, allowing the viewer to form their own images of the crew drowning or wonder of how they perished would have made a much better ending.
Instead the camera goes inside of the sinking ship to allow the crew to say their last words like “this is going to be tough on my boy,” and “we gave her a hell of a shot.” Then Wolfgang shows Wahlberg escape the ship and swim to the surface. He doesn’t show Wahlberg drown, instead he shows Wahlberg floating in the stormy seas “praying” to his girlfriend. The love and hope Wahlberg tried to send to his girlfriend through his thought powers and spirit was so fucking dumb.
Watching The Perfect Storm felt similar to the movie Everest which was released a few years ago. Everest wasn’t as bad as The Perfect Storm, but it has a gnarly cast and based on true events involving a natural disaster that was filled with Hollywood shortcomings.
The Perfect Storm was a Perfect Storm of bad direction, music, and summer blockbuster clichés to form a disappointing movie (hacky sentence).