A little over a month ago, Florida was hit by Tropical Storm Eta. It made landfall on the Gulf Coast a little north of the little home in which I reside on the coast. As somebody who has lived in Florida for some time, you learn to take storms in a measured way. What I mean is you take in all the data being given by the various news outlets and you measure the amount of precautions you need to take to secure your abode. I do not think anyone in our neighborhood took the storm too seriously. I even visited a friend and his family on that day. When I got back, the bay on which I live was in the street, in the backyard, and coming into the house. A flooded car and bedroom later, chalk it up as a lesson learned. I wish the same thing could be said about the characters in The Perfect Storm (2000).
Christina Cotter (Diane Lane) awakens in the middle of the night after dreaming of a giant wave engulfing the small fishing town of Gloucester where she resides. Once up, she realizes something is missing. It is a person, but we do not know that yet. Next we jump back in time, I think, to a bunch of fishing boats coming in to dock and unload their hauls. In the frenzy of activity there are several people reuniting as loved ones greet the returning fishermen who had been at sea for months. Among them is Christina and she leaps into the arms of Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), a junior worker on Captain Billy Tyne’s (George Clooney) Andrea Gail swordfish vessel. When Tyne goes to settle up with the fleet’s owner, Bob Brown (Michael Ironside), it is apparent that the seasoned angler’s run of bad luck in obtaining product is continuing. Hence, much to the chagrin of his crew, he decides to head back out to sea within days instead of taking some time on shore. Christina, among others related in some form or another to the crew, are not pleased with this decision, and Bobby almost decides to stay behind. But pressing debts and the need to give money to an ex-wife, and the desire to build a new life with Christina, make the allure of the potential riches to be gained from one more trip too much to pass up. And they head out. Remember the title of the film? Not long into their journey, Boston meteorologist Todd Gross (Christopher McDonald) begins seeing signs in the Atlantic of a confluence of fronts that he predicts will produce a devastating storm. Among those receiving some of the same readings is Tyne’s co-captain on another ship, Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and she relays a warning to Tyne. This goes ignored as he heads farther out into the Atlantic Ocean, seeking to fill his hold with swordfish. The move proves successful, but now he must return to Gloucester with the storm between him and home. He could go around, but the onboard ice maker keeping the catch fresh had stopped working, necessitating a more direct route. As they motor deeper into the tempest, the folly of this action becomes more and more apparent. Unfortunately, they do not realize it until it is too late, and all hands are lost.
If this summary of The Perfect Storm seems a little shorter than usual, it is because there are extra plot lines thrown into this mess in order to pad out the length. I guess they did not think a movie about a fishing boat trying to navigate a hurricane did not provide enough material. Hence, without any backstory or preamble, we get a side-story about a family also out in the storm on their yacht. Despite the raging waves getting increasingly furious, Alexander McAnally III (Bob Gunton), owner of the Mistral, refuses to head back to port, insisting to ride out the storm. Inevitably they had to be rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter, which was also sent out to look into the state of the Andrea Gail. Of course, the helicopter’s crew had to be pulled from the sea after an unsuccessful attempt at refueling. All of this has very little to do with Tyne and his boat other than all of it taking place in the same storm. Whenever they cut to any of this I got annoyed, and they underscore how disorganized is this film.
When we think about the kind of events seen in The Perfect Storm, one of the phrases that comes to mind is “an act of God.” To be sure, hurricanes evoke the power of the Almighty, with their winds, lighting, and downpours speaking to a strength utterly beyond our understanding or control. This is the lesson that Tyne and his shipmates do not realize until it is too late. They believe they know the sea best and can handle anything the Heavens will throw at them. It is a common form of hubris among people in this day and age, and when such so-called “acts of God” lead to destruction, too often people blame God. I would never presume to tell people how they should feel, particularly when they are hurting over the loss of a loved one. However, consider that God’s ways, as it says in the Bible, are far above our ways. Who knows why God does what He does, and any insight into such things are usually best kept between you and God. God’s will comes for us all one day, but neither should you take it lightly, believing you can subvert the Divine no matter your skills as a seaman.
The Perfect Storm is exhaustingly dramatic, and my discussion of acts of God should give clues to that fact. I felt bad for Christina, but the whole thing was a little over-the-top for my tastes. Take when Greenlaw radios Tyne one last warning about the trouble he is steaming for, shouting that he is headed for the middle of the monster! Then again, who stoically comes face-to-face with a hurricane? If you are in the mood for a movie about big waves and small boats, the tinniness of man in comparison to God, then have at it. The plot is a mess, but it is a classic disaster film.