When this movie first came out I actively avoided it. As I mentioned when writing about Leatherheads, I was no fan of George Clooney until I saw his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. I actively (perhaps unfairly) disliked him at the time for that matter. (To be fair to me, I saw a good portion of Batman and Robin theatrically, before walking out.) Funky Bunch. I’ve long struggled with this guy as well. I didn’t like him in The Basketball Diaries (for the record, any film with Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” song is at quite a disadvantage with me) and next caught him when Traveller came out the following year, which I thought he was pretty good in. He is extremely hit and miss, but his hits are pretty mind-boggling. It’s hard for me to root for a guy like Mark Wahlberg and I tend to feel like he has been more lucky than choosy. (Maybe his agent employs the greatest script reader of all time combined with the unbelievable list of talented directors he has worked with?) I can clearly say that I don’t go see a movie just because Wahlberg is in it, whereas I at least consider it if Clooney is involved. This was another clearance bin, movie-for-a-rainy-day HD-DVD purchase that sat shelved for the past year plus. Since the new millennium has been a pretty solid one for George Clooney, I thought I’d watch it with my newfound appreciation of the guy. I was actually looking forward to it a little bit. I was encouraged when I saw John C. Reilly, John Hawkes and Cherry Jones in the credits. This is a pretty reliable cast of character actors.
As Gene Shalit would probably say, “This movie is a Perfect Storm”, except he would finish the sentence with “of terrific adventure!!!” whereas I would finish it with “of shitiness.” The movie starts out like all of these event movies do, setting you in the “nuanced” world of fill-in-the-blank (fishing boats and fisherman, their long-suffering partners, and the port towns they drink in, in this case). The first thirty minutes outlines the various archetypes that the viewers are supposed to hopelessly root for. There is John C. Reilly’s, the life of a fisherman being gone to sea for long periods of time will break up your family, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my kid and wife (who recently divorced me after sleeping around with a guy I hope doesn’t become a last minute replacement on my upcoming fishing job). The inexplicable choice is then made to have him tell his adoring son, just before he leaves for said particularly fateful fishing job that, “someday mommy will find a new daddy for you and we both just need to accept that fate even though neither of us want to”. Hmm. Then there is John Hawkes’, why can’t I just get laid before going back out to sea, but really I want a full-time meaningful relationship, oh wait a minute, I just met her at the bar and our relationship will be perfect and get started in just a minute, I just have to run out for this little fishing job first character. You know, just like life! There is a foreign-born, minority fisherman that barely existed apparently and rarely spoke. He did a lot of fucking, unlike Hawkes’ character, who wished he could. This is truly all you find out about him (and he was a real guy – who died! – geez, what’s a guy gotta do?). Funky Bunch’s character is a greenhorn heading out for his second job and just not cut out for this life of broken relationships because he has the perfect lady and a perfect relationship (despite the drunken physical abuse) who has secretly bought them their first house that she is going to surprise him with right after he gets back from his one last fishing job. That stuff is always happening to me too. Clooney is either the wreckless and controlling or brilliant and admirable captain of the ship, as clearly there must have been some debate and the screenwriter decided, “I’ll just pick minute-by-minute until the end, when I’ll have to make him more of a good guy to help prop up my struggling conclusion”. Get this, he is the later version of all of these guys, who has already officially lost connection with his wife and child and lives for the sea. But wait, there is another lady boat captain who sees who he really is and maybe, just maybe, they have future waiting together, after this next fishing trip. Oh yeah, it turns out the last minute replacement deckhand is that guy who fucked Reilly’s wife… Shoot, I hoped it wouldn’t be. Bad luck I guess, but it sure could make things interesting!
By the halfway point of the film I found myself officially distracted by the ridiculous score. This score goes to eleven! Neither director Wolfgang Peterson nor composer James Horner were lacking experience by this point in their careers. They both should have known better. When it comes to film music, less is usually more. Every moment of this film had a huge clichéd orchestra nipping at its heels, just in case you were too dumb to figure out what you should feel at any time, what with all of the subtlety of the script. Despite all of the other problems I have with the film, this music is far and away the biggest problem in the movie. I know that a lot of viewers don’t have their attention drawn to this type of thing, but now you won’t be able to avoid it. Word curse. I’m not nitpicking here, this is terrible shit.
George Clooney was serviceable if not miscast in the film and the rest of the cast was equal to or less than that. I won’t go into the obvious “based on a true story” problems that this film has. I guess that misses the point of this type of fare. The script and direction were extremely clunky and strangely amateurish (this feels generous) with the Christopher McDonald meteorologist character being the most prominent example. His character exists merely as a piece of the sloppiest exposition, informing the viewer about the convergence of multiple storm fronts into a super-(dare I say, perfect?)storm, and then he is completely dropped from the storyline. There are a million ways to pick apart all of the problems with this movie, but I’ll leave the numerous others for you to discover (or re-discover!). It seems the point of this type of movie is usually to say something about the human condition, love, loss, resignation, redemption, hope, etc… All of those things are done so lamely here, that they truly don’t justify the use of the real fisherman’s names and “likenesses”.
I think a movie like The Perfect Storm really only need rise to one occasion. Can a typical American male watch this on a lazy Sunday with his father/brother/son/”buddy” every now and again and have it fit the occasion? Truthfully, I don’t see it happening. It’ll be reached past on the shelf in favor of the Tombstone’s, Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan movies of the world. File this with Renaissance Man, Planet of the Apes, and Rock Star and not with Boogie Nights and I Heart Huckabees. I’ll forgive you Clooney. It would be unfair to file this with The Facts of Life.