The Perfect Storm

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

More gallingly, Wittliff adds in a romance for Tyne the book never even hinted at: Tyne flirts with Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, looking as though she's in The Abyss outtakes), real-life captain of the Andrea Gail's sister ship. The two were indeed friends, colleagues who shared risk and reward, but this bubbling-beneath-the-surface love affair exists now to give Tyne's death resonance: The woman who loved him is left behind, alone. It's as though the filmmakers have little faith in our ability to care about Tyne, so they add in a woman who frets over him ("You be careful," she warns him over the radio. "This could be a triple-header") and, finally, mourns him. She cries so we don't have to.

Like Junger, the filmmakers try to keep Shatford in the center of the storm: He's our stand-in, our ticket aboard the Andrea Gail. He doesn't want to leave behind the women he loves -- his mother, Ethel (Janet Wright), and his new girlfriend, Christina (Diane Lane) -- but has no choice because he owes his ex-wife thousands in back alimony. Bobby and Christina can't start their new life together until he severs the ties with his old one, although he's well aware (call it a feeling, a premonition he and Christina share) that if he steps foot aboard the Andrea Gail one more time, he will have no life at all. (Junger, like Wittliff, did amp up the melodrama; that's one thing book and film share.)

The rest of the crew disappears behind the raindrops and surging seas. The actors -- even Reilly and Fichtner as feuding shipmates, another fabrication -- might as well have been computer-generated like the surging seas. They barely speak at all, except to yell at each other or curse Tyne's bad luck. We care so little for them, we're not even bothered by the fact that we don't see them die. They simply disappear: One minute they're up to their neck in water; the next, we're at the memorial service, bidding farewell to complete strangers. Were Petersen less concerned with his effects and with teasing us with half-assed heroics (Clooney cutting a loose anchor from the ship; the crew bolting a steel plate where a window once was) and more interested in his characters, perhaps their deaths would have had meaning. Instead, they're just fisherman lost at sea; their deaths elicit nothing more than shrugs -- save for that of Bobby, who survives long enough to deliver an internal monologue that disproves the notion that shit floats.

Wittliff and Petersen certainly are treading in dangerous waters: Junger, acting as truth-telling journalist, wasn't allowed to fictionalize the deaths of Tyne and his crew, which most likely happened about three days after radio contact was lost on Oct. 28. He was forced to rely on historical texts and recollections of other captains and crews caught in the storm; he played it safe, softening the blows by insisting that maybe this happened and possibly that happened. But one can't make a film out of could-haves, out of theories and conjecture, so Wittliff has gone through Junger's book and plundered its fact-checked pages in order to bend and break the truth.

No longer are shark attacks (which happened to Murphy, on another boat) and tales of men dragged through the sea with hooks caught in their hands just historical anecdotes, tough-guy stories meant to illustrate how dangerous life at sea can be for these fisherman. Now, they happen to the crew of the Andrea Gail; Junger's research has been brought to life before it drowns. It's as though their real-life tale wasn't dramatic enough, so Wittliff gives it more weight --enough to drag it to the bottom of the ocean. By the time Chris McDonald shows up as a Boston weatherman ("It would be a disaster of epic proportions. It would be ... the perfect storm!"), it's hard not to chuckle at such cynical, calculated theatrics. It may have been the perfect storm, but this is the imperfect movie.

Opens June 30.

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