The Perfect Storm (film)

The Perfect Storm is a 2000 American biographical disaster drama film directed by Wolfgang Petersen and based on the 1997 non-fiction book of the same name by Sebastian Junger. The film tells the story of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing vessel that was lost at sea with all hands after being caught in the Perfect Storm of 1991. The film stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, William Fichtner, Michael Ironside, John C. Reilly, Karen Allen and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.[2] It was released on June 30, 2000, by Warner Bros. and grossed $328 million worldwide.

In October 1991, the commercial fishing boat Andrea Gail returns to port in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with a poor catch. Boat owner Bob Brown (Michael Ironside) ridicules and taunts Captain Billy Tyne over his recent "cold streak". Desperate to redeem himself, Captain Tyne convinces the Andrea Gail crew to join him for one more late-season fishing expedition. The crew heads out past their usual fishing grounds on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, leaving a developing tropical storm behind them. Initially unsuccessful, they head to the Flemish Cap, where their luck greatly improves. At the height of their fishing, the ice machine breaks down; the only way to sell their catch before it spoils is to hurry back to shore. After debating whether to sail through the building storm or to wait it out, the crew decides to risk the storm. However, between Andrea Gail and Gloucester is a confluence of two powerful weather fronts and a hurricane, which the Andrea Gail crew underestimates.

After repeated warnings from other ships, Andrea Gail loses her antenna, forcing Captain Linda Greenlaw of sister ship Hannah Boden to call in a Mayday. A New York Air National Guard HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopter responds, but after failing to perform a midair refueling with an HC-130 Hercules, the helicopter crew ditch their aircraft. All but one of the Air National Guard crew members are rescued by a Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Tamaroa.

After Andrea Gail endures various problems, with 40 foot waves crashing into the deck, a broken stabilizer ramming the side of the ship, and two crew members briefly getting thrown overboard, the crew struggles to sail through pounding waves and shrieking winds, while friends and family worry and wait for a ship that never comes home. The vessel encounters an enormous rogue wave. They attempt to drive the boat over the wave, but it crests before it can get to the top and is overturned. Billy elects to go down with his ship, the rest of the crew are trapped inside the living quarters, and only one, rookie fisherman Bobby Shatford, manages to get out. He surfaces and watches as Andrea Gail rights herself before sinking stern-first into the Atlantic. Knowing that he has no chance of survival without a lifejacket, Bobby silently says his goodbyes to his loved ones as the rapidly rising swell carries him away.

There are no survivors; Linda reads the eulogy at the memorial. Later, as she heads out to sea again, she remembers Billy soliloquizing about what it means to be a ship captain.

Hurricane Grace on October 28, 1991, when the Andrea Gail went missing.

A ship similar to Andrea Gail, Lady Grace, was used during the filming of the movie.[3][4] Most of the names used were not changed for the fictional film, but in response two lawsuits were later filed by certain families of the crew members. The film only claims to be "based on a true story", and differs in many ways from the book starting with the fictionalization of the material into a "story". The events shown in the film after the Andrea Gail's last radio contact are pure speculation, as the boat and the bodies of the crew were never found.[5]

Contrary to the movie's storyline, Captain Linda Greenlaw says she did not place a distress call on behalf of Andrea Gail. "Without a distress call (directly) from the imperiled vessel, the Coast Guard will not initiate a search until the vessel is five days overdue in port," Greenlaw said.[6] She had also been 600 miles east of the Andrea Gail when she went down (not west as depicted), and stated "They never indicated they were in trouble. They just never came back."[7] The 1993 U.S. Coast Guard's investigative report said that Andrea Gail was experiencing 30-foot waves and winds from anywhere from 50 to 80 kn (58 to 92 mph) around the time of the last communication. The conditions, though threatening, were probably not unfamiliar to Tyne, who had been a successful fisherman for about a decade on other vessels, taking trips to the Grand Banks and fishing off Florida, the Carolinas, and elsewhere.[6]

Hurricane Grace is exaggerated in the movie when it is referred to by a weather forecaster as a "category 5" storm, which has winds sustained at over 137 knots (≥ 157 mph).[8] In reality, the hurricane had already peaked at category 2 intensity and ocean buoy monitors recorded wind gusts at 65 knots (75 mph) around the time Andrea Gail sank.[9] In the movie, Tyne and his crew agreed to head into the dangerous storm in order to save their fish from spoiling. Greenlaw acknowledged that Tyne did mention having ice problems, but that was not unusual. "My one gripe about [the] movie was how Warner Brothers depicted Billy Tyne and his crew as making a very conscious decision to steam into a storm that they knew was dangerous," said Greenlaw. "That is not what happened. Andrea Gail was three days into their steam home when the storm hit. Whatever happened to Andrea Gail happened very quickly."[6]

An Air National Guard helicopter was dispatched from Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base on Long Island, New York, but not in response to the Andrea Gail or Satori (Mistral in the movie). The helicopter departed mid-storm on a mission to help save a lone Japanese fisherman from a sinking sailboat 250 miles off the New Jersey coast. Unsuccessful and running low on fuel, the Air National Guard Sikorsky HH-60G helicopter was compelled to attempt a mid-flight refueling maneuver. The zero-visibility conditions thwarted their efforts, however, and lacking enough fuel to make the flight back to the Long Island base, the crew were forced to ditch the helicopter. After a search by Tamaroa, four of the HH-60's crew were picked up; one was never seen again. The Japanese yachtsman was later rescued by a Romanian cargo ship.[6]

When asked about the portrayal of "Sully" in the movie, Cathy Sullivan Mustone, an older sister of David "Sully" Sullivan, said she was disappointed. "They made my brother's character out to be a hothead," she said. "I guess every movie needs a villain, but my brother was a funny guy with a loud laugh and a big smile. He had a lot of guts and he loved fishing." In fact, David's bravery and quick thinking made headlines on a different boat—Harmony. One night during a winter fishing trip, Harmony began taking on water while tied to another boat. The crew of Harmony yelled for help, hoping to wake the nearby crew. No one woke, so David dove into the icy water, pulling himself on the ropes that tied the boats together. As a result of his bravery, Harmony's crew was saved. Mustone said, "At least in the movie, they did represent my brother's bravery in a water rescue scene. He was a good man. And I just know he is at peace in heaven, safe with our Dad."[6]

The crew members of Satori (renamed Mistral in the movie) were not rescued by an Air National Guard helicopter, but rather by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. The helicopter was changed in the film after the Air National Guard had issues consulting with the movie producers. According to the owner's son, Satori never made a 360° roll, although it had two knockdowns, during which it lay on its side for about 30 seconds.[10] In response to requests by the crew, Captain Ray Leonard permitted the two crewmembers to make a position report over radio, during which they made an unauthorized Mayday call. One of those crewmembers reported that she was so convinced that she was going to die that she wrote her name down and put it into a plastic bag duct-taped to her stomach so her body could be identified.

There is controversy over whether the Captain was drunk, as charged by the women in the book, with Leonard objecting to this characterization. Out of compassion for the expected loss of his boat, the Coast Guard did not test his blood alcohol levels at the time. The Coast Guard declared the voyage manifestly unsafe and ordered everyone off-board, including the unwilling skipper.[10] The Coast Guard first tried to take them on board via an inflatable boat, but after it was damaged when trying to approach Satori they sent a helicopter, which is a much riskier approach, as a rescue swimmer must jump into dangerous seas. The Coast Guard helicopter did not try to lower rescue gear onto the yacht (as shown in the movie, where it gets entangled with the mast), but rather asked the crew of Satori to jump overboard to meet a rescue swimmer in the water. Leonard eventually complied with the request.

After the storm, Leonard searched for the Satori, hoping to find her still afloat, but in spite of his attempts she was found a few days later washed ashore on a Maryland beach, a bag of personal belongings still on deck. Leonard paid for a 60-foot fishing vessel to drag her off the beach, helped by a channel dug by Park Rangers who had been guarding the boat. He continued to sail the boat until he sold her to a new owner in 2000.[10]

The Perfect Storm received mixed reviews from critics, with a 47% approval rating on critic site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 135 reviews, and an average rating of 5.59/10, with a consensus of, "While the special effects are well done and quite impressive, this film suffers a lack of any actual drama or characterization. The end result is a film that offers nifty eye-candy and nothing else."[11] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 59 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[12]

The Perfect Storm was a box office success. On its opening weekend, it debuted with $42 million ahead of Sony's The Patriot and eventually brought in over $182.6 million in the United States, and $146.1 million around the world to a total of $328.7 million worldwide.[13]

The film was nominated for 2 Academy Awards, Best Visual Effects (Walt Conti, Stefen Fangmeier, John Frazier and Habib Zargarpour) and Best Sound (John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David E. Campbell and Keith A. Wester), but lost both to Gladiator.[14] However, it was also nominated for a Stinker Award for Most Intrusive Musical Score.[15]

After the film was released, the families of two crew members sued the film makers for the fictionalization of events which happened prior to the loss of Andrea Gail.[18] In 2005, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against the family of Captain Tyne by a 6–2 vote. Some unnamed families also sued the producers in federal district court, claiming that their names were used without their permission, and that facts were changed.[19] The district court, which is also located in Florida, dismissed the case, as in their opinion the defendants' First Amendment right to freedom of speech barred the suit. The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which could not decide how to interpret the Florida law at issue and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. In the end, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the district court's interpretation of Florida law, and thereupon the 11th Circuit affirmed the prior decision to dismiss the case.[19]