By Steve Vivona
When "The Perfect Storm" was released I knew very little about the real-life events that inspired the film, and even less about the long tradition of fishermen who hailed from Gloucester, Mass. A friend of mine who read Sebastian Junger's book (on which the movie is based) explained some of the fascinating details of their existence to me. It is a dangerous lucrative lifestyle and the men who call it their trade are almost addicted to it, cursing it one minute and embracing it the next.
There was inherent drama in the story of the fishing vessel, Andrea Gail. In October of 1991 the fishing boat was caught in the middle of an incredibly rare confluence of three violent weather systems that combined to form a storm whose like had never been seen before. It was dubbed "The Perfect Storm."
George Clooney plays Billy Tyne, the captain of the Andrea Gail. Billy is a consummate sea captain who has had a run of bad luck recently. The owner of the Gail seriously doubts Billys ability to bring in a lucrative haul. Billy's crew includes Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), a young man torn between his passion for the sea and a woman who loves almost as intensely. The rest of his crew are all hard-edged men who have all lost something as a result of this difficult lifestyle.
After bringing in a disappointing haul Billy decides to take the Gail out again immediately over the protests of his crew. He is determined to improve their fortunes by sailing out farther than usual to a somewhat undisturbed area where he hopes they will find a wealth of fish.
After some disappointing catches they manage to snare a staggering amount of fish just as Billy predicted. However the crew of the Gail is unaware of the massive weather system that stands between them and home. The storm hits with a ferocity that man has not ever seen in recorded history and while the National Guard manages to rescue some trapped boaters even they are not spared its ravages.
The crew of the Gail soon realize they must turn away from the storm even though it will mean the loss of their precious cargo. However the storm overtakes them and the film becomes a ferocious battle of man against nature.
"The Perfect Storm" benefits from the direction of Wolfgang Petersen, a man who knows how to direct some of the most intense action sequences while never sacrificing story or character development in the process (case in point, "Air Force One," "In the Line of Fire"). He charts new ground with this film as he combines an incredible set with computer-generated imagery to represent this unstoppable force of nature.
Clooney and Wahlberg had already demonstrated a certain chemistry in "Three Kings" and it spills over to this film. Clooney plays Tyne with a desperate intensity, as a man who feels as though he must prove his worth as a captain or lose his livelihood. Wahlberg has mastered the "nice guy" role and he effectively portrays a man who may be willing to choose another life to make the woman he loves happy.
The final hour of "The Perfect Storm" is as intense an experience I've ever had watching a film. The action never lets up and it's hard not to be swept up into the drama as these men face impossible odds. It should not be forgotten that The Perfect Storm is as much a character study as it is a so-called action film. It does the novel justice as it brings to life the traditions of the Gloucester fishermen and the peril they often face.
Warner's excellent DVD presentation only enhances the experience of this film. The widescreen transfer is immaculate with a crisp, razor-sharp image and dramatic colors that are rich and vibrant. The Dolby Digital sound puts the viewer right in the midst of the storm making the film a truly visceral experience.
Also included is an insightful audio commentary from Petersen as well as one from author Junger and visual effects supervisor Stephen Fangmeier. No less than three documentaries are included to really flesh out the true story behind the film as well as its production. The documentaries feature real footage of the storm as well as interviews with those who lived through it. Rounding out the supplements are trailers, production stills and DVD-Rom features.