The Perfect Storm, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and written by William Wittliff (based on the Sebastian Junger nonfiction best-seller), has an impressive assortment of computer-generated monstro-waves and lots of hollering between shipmates trying to be heard above the crash of those waves. The film is about what happened, or may have happened, when a swordfishing boat departing in the fall of 1991 from Gloucester, Massachusetts, ran into perhaps the biggest storm in modern marine history. George Clooney is the skipper whose crew includes Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly, and you can literally see his thin dark beard go grayish as the waves start to hit. He’s the kind of hard-bitten guy who feels the need to explain that he’s “never good at doing things the way they were meant to be done.” Of course. If he were, there wouldn’t be a movie.
There’s practically no way to respond to The Perfect Storm except as spectacle. The filmmakers are so intent on setting up the fishing trip as a heroic-mythic quest that they shortchange the more obvious question of why these men would risk so much for thrills and pride and a paycheck when, with far less difficulty, they could have made their way to safety. The audience, with good reason, is much more conflicted in the end about this voyage than the crew, and so we are put in the unfortunate position of feeling superior to these men. Heroism without much of an undercurrent – that’s what this movie is selling. Pyrrhic gestures work best when the gestures don’t appear to be so dunderheaded.