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Movie Review - The Perfect Storm


The Perfect Storm
Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Rating: ****

I'm glad I waited for the video to come out, because I'm convinced this scary movie would have chased me out of the movie theater. On the TV screen, it still had me tossing and turning along with all the boats and helicopters. And it swept me along with the doomed fishermen, even though I knew it was all just sensation special effects, technology and stunt work.

The Perfect Storm is based on the true story of the Andrea Gail, a fishing boat consumed, along with its crew, by three storms that collided and blew up in the Atlantic off the coast of New England in 1991. A meteorologist, thrilled by this historical event, said "Oh, my God. You can be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this the perfect storm." And it's the storm, not the people, that stars in this 2000 movie, much of which was filmed on location in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Based on the best-seller by Sebastian Junger, the story is simple: the economic pressures of the swordfishing industry drive Capt. Billy Tyne (George Clooney) into taking a dangerous risk to save his pride. While the character development of his crew doesn't go too deep, we learn enough about them to care when they are fighting for their lives against this unimaginable elemental monster. Our hearts also bleed for their loved ones back home, who are clustered together in the local bar, white-faced and helpless, watching the weather channel.

The offshore suspense builds on several fronts. A couple of accidents leave the fishing boat's crew with a sense of foreboding. A rich yachtsman (Bob Gunton), who thinks he knows it all, loses his boat among the rogue waves and would have lost his and his crew's lives if they hadn't been plucked out of the churning sea in a sensational helicopter rescue. The chopper goes on to try saving the Andrea Gail, but runs out of gas. A mid-air refueling attempt in gale-force winds fails, and they have to leave the fishing boat to fight Mother Nature at her most merciless. The storm scenes are punctuated by some terrifying images my favorite is the Andrea Gale's attempt to climb the vertical side of a mountainous wave. She gets about halfway up, then slides back down and is swallowed up.

Having sailed through my share of storms, I felt the chill of this movie right to my bone marrow. In September 1991, a month before this tragedy, I was racing in the waters off Newport, Rhode Island. The wreckage that an ordinary hurricane earlier in the year had left in its wake was still piled up on the beaches there, so I can imagine what Gloucester looked like after the perfect storm. And, now that I've seen this movie, I probably won't sail those waters again. Don't want to take a chance on adding mine to the more than 10,000 lives lost at sea there since 1623.