- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

The high seas and seafaring peril have always been reliably cinematic. Contemporary box-office success might be summarized by starting with "Jaws" in 1975 and concluding with "Titanic" in 1997. Given the nature of the subject matter and the track record of director Wolfgang Petersen, who directed one of the great nautical thrillers of recent years, "Das Boot," it was reasonable to expect something exceptional from the film version of "The Perfect Storm," Sebastian Junger's nonfiction elegy to Gloucester, Mass., fishermen caught in the fury of a hellacious storm system at the end of October 1991.
The movie invites some quibbling, mainly about the adequacy of its expository vignettes, which could be more abundant and haunting. Even while craving more in the way of introductory character sketching and interplay, I found myself in a state of brokenhearted anticipation within a half-hour or so. The final hour probably is the most sustained and awesome feat of hard-weather simulation ever achieved in the film medium. I don't think admirers of the book need fear a serious diminution of urgency or pathos.
Mr. Petersen and his colleagues have approached their source material with admirable fidelity and pictorial dynamism. Once the swordfishing boat Andrea Gail and its six-man crew, captained by George Clooney as Billy Tyne, has sailed into harm's way, all debatable shortcomings are forgiven.
The ferocity of the threat and the stirring mismatch of man against nature that ensues make human interest very simple and straightforward: You identify profoundly with a group of people fighting for their lives in conditions of ultimate meteorological peril.
The scope of the film might have been expanded to include preambles about the air rescue teams that are drawn into the crisis, although not specifically in ways that affect the fate of the Andrea Gail. Having said that, I think the filmmakers keep a remarkable amount of incisive depiction in play while shifting between locations.
The priority, of course, is to remain close to the Andrea Gail, which sails far out into the North Atlantic while attempting to secure one last and decisively lucrative cargo of fish before the weather grows too threatening even for hardened risk-takers. In addition, the movie maintains a vigil with relatives and sweethearts back in Gloucester, updates the bad weather news and uses an endangered sailboat nearing Bermuda to introduce the valorous personnel of rescue teams in the Air Force and Coast Guard.
The supplementary crises provide some perspective on Tyne's risk-taking. As the skipper of the sailboat, Bob Gunton is loath to resort to a Mayday call, eventually broadcast by Karen Allen as his daughter. He's convinced he can ride out the storm, even after it has rolled his vessel sideways 360 degrees.
The captain of the Coast Guard rescue ship also is willing to take his state-of-the-art vessel close to the limits of endurance to retrieve comrades from the sea.
Something in Tyne clearly welcomes an overwhelming challenge to his seamanship, but without the comparative impressions, outsiders might misread him as a reckless enigma. They still may. All the episodes that depict the Andrea Gail in its final hours are speculative, but the movie's balance of generosity and bravado proves satisfying.
The special effects unit achieves one image so magnificent that it's been exploited in the advertising art: the sight of the Andrea Gail at the mercy of the last wave it tries to ride out. An elegiac aftermath may be even better: the sight of Mark Wahlberg lost in towering seas. "The Perfect Storm" fulfills its potential as a nobly terrifying tear-jerker.

Three-and-a-half stars out of a maximum of four stars
TITLE: "The Perfect Storm"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence, mostly associated with depictions of authentic nautical peril)
CREDITS: Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Screenplay by William Wittliff, based on the book by Sebastian Junger.
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

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