Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, John Hawkes, Cherry Jones, Karen Allen, Bob Gunton, Janet Wright, Michael Ironside, Rusty Schwimmer
Rated PG-13 for Language and Scenes of Peril
The thing that sets "The Perfect Storm" apart is that once it gets going, it never lets go. Watching the film is a maddening experience; we never get the chance to get oriented or catch out breath. That's exactly where Wolfgang Peterson wants us. He puts us right in the middle of the action, and it's not a happy place to be. One person describes it as "hell." That's an apt descriptor.
The Andrea Gail is a swordfishing boat out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. It's captained by Billy Tyne (Clooney), whose love of fishing has crossed over into an obsession. His right-hand man is rookie Bobby Shatford (Wahlberg), who loves fishing and loves his girlfriend Christina (Lane) almost as much. After a weak catch, Billy decides to go out one last time before the season ends. That's when they run into the storm of the century: a nor'easter storm merges with a hurricane, and turns the ocean into a war zone with 100 foot waves and gale force winds. Also caught in the storm is the Mistral, a longboat on its way to Bermuda. The captain of that ship, a man named McAnally (Gunton), wants to wait out the storm rather than call for rescue, but his passengers (Jones and Allen), disagree.
The performances are strong across the board, which helps immeasurably. George Clooney is terrific as the obsessed Billy Tyne. His ego and desire to prove Bob Brown (Ironside), the ship's owner, wrong (Brown thinks that Billy has lost his touch and all but pushes him into going out again) cloud his judgement. Mark Wahlberg is also very good as Bobby, who realizes that his captain may be leading him into a lot of danger. But Billy has a way of getting his crew to follow his orders, mainly by appealing to their vanity. Also very good is Diane Lane, who plays Christine. She's a tough woman, but hopelessly in love with Bobby. She and Wahlberg have great chemistry.
The film is blessed with a stellar supporting cast, and all are excellent. But for me, there are two that stand out: Mastrontonio and Schwimmer. Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, a character actress famous for playing Al Pacino's sister in "Scarface," is excellent as Billy's rival captain and love interest, Linda Greenlaw. Although Linda functions as the worrywart and voice of reality in the film, Mastrontonio is talented enough not to make the character seem like a plot device. Her best scene is at the end; she's so good that it's arguable that she deserved an Oscar nomination just for that scene. Also worth mentioning is Rusty Schwimmer, a character actress who, based on the evidence, should get more roles. She plays Irene, a guarded woman who tentatively forms a relationship with Bugsy (Hawkes), who is jealous of the romantic relationships that his friends are involved in. Schwimmer is quite good, and it should have led on to more things.
Wolfgang Peterson works best with a small cast and claustrophobic settings. Witness the difference between this or "Air Force One" and "Troy." "Troy" was a fine film, but nowhere near as effective as this or "Air Force One." Peterson takes time to develop his characters, but once the action starts, he pulls out all the stops and never lets the tension sag. As soon as one obstacle is resolved, another one takes its place until we, like the crews of the Andrea Gail and the passengers of the Mistral, are begging for some release.
"The Perfect Storm" is one of those movies that's less of a movie and more of an experience.