Captain Billy Tyne is a seafarer with a troubled past and something to prove and Bobby Shatford is the guy who just needs one big catch to stay ashore forever more with his love. When their fishing boat gets caught in the weather phenomena of a 'perfect storm' helicopters are sent to rescue them but can they make it in time.
Anyone who suffers from motion sickness would be well advised not to eat anything except a dose of Dramamine before taking in this roller coasterride through a hurricane. Have you ever wondered, while contemplating your laundry spinning, what it would be like to be trapped in the rinse cycle? Well, now we know.
The pre-soak is close to an hour of setting up fishermen's culture, relationships and mood while running commentary from a TV weatherman (Christopher McDonald) helpfully explains the meteorological stuff as stormfronts head for collision on his computer screen and James Horner's scorestrikes ominous strains. You surely know the disaster drill.
Clooney (who looks like a Movie Star even in plaid flannel shirts) is the captain with a troubled past and something to prove. Wahlberg is the guy who just needs one big catch to stay ashore forever more with his love. She (Lane) presides fearfully over the local chapter of Women Who Wait. And in the port tavern a prophetic Old Salt says "Ahrr, ahrr, I were there in '69. It were full o'fish and full o'weather".
Screenwriter Wittliff, whose credits include Lonesome Dove and Legends of the Fall, upholds the romantic view of seafaring folk and the cast manfully play along, especially when required to say things like "This is where we separate the men from the boys" without giggling.
Dramas filmed on water are notoriously problematic but Petersen, justly celebrated for Das Boot, is The Man. Once he puts out to sea this really starts rocking and he relentlessly builds up the claustrophobia and tension aboard the Andrea Gail, a foundering yacht, and an Air Force rescue chopper as the gasp-inducing wind and weather marvels mount to an almost unbearableseries of aerial, roiling surface and underwater set pieces.
Oscar-winning cinematographer John Seale does a remarkable job in undoubtedly trying conditions while the special effects (supervised by Armageddon, Twister and Speed man John Frazier) are literally overwhelmingly effective. Even a wimpy spiritual revelation coda can't screw up the exciting, harrowing action.
Big on visuals, Wolfgang Petersen's blockbuster makes a good stab at establishing its characters and their way of life in the first hour but then it really is all about the big water and big action.