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Storm Warning

Disaster film sinks under its own melodramatic weight

Like Junger, the filmmakers try to keep Shatford in the center of the storm: He's our ticket aboard the Andrea Gail. He doesn't want to leave behind the women he loves -- his mother, Ethel (Janet Wright), and his new girlfriend, Christina (Diane Lane) -- but has no choice, as he owes his ex-wife thousands in back alimony. Bobby and Christina can't start their new life together until he severs the ties with his old one, although he's well aware (call it a feeling, a premonition he and Christina share) that if he steps foot aboard the Andrea Gail one more time, he will have no life at all.

The rest of the crew disappears behind the raindrops and surging seas. The actors -- even Reilly and Fichtner as feuding shipmates, another fabrication -- might as well have been computer-generated like the surging seas. They barely speak at all, except to yell at each other or curse Tyne's bad luck. We care so little for them, we're not even bothered by the fact that we don't see them die. They simply disappear. One minute they're up to their necks in water; the next, we're at the memorial service, bidding farewell to complete strangers. Were Petersen less concerned with his effects and with teasing us with half-assed heroics and more interested in his characters, perhaps their deaths would have had meaning. Instead, they're just fishermen lost at sea; their deaths amount to nothing more than shrugs -- save for that of Bobby, who survives long enough to deliver an internal monologue that disproves the notion that shit floats.

Wittliff and Petersen certainly are treading in dangerous waters: Junger, acting as truth-telling journalist, wasn't allowed to fictionalize the deaths of Tyne and his crew, which most likely happened about three days after radio contact was lost on October 28. He was forced to rely on historical texts and recollections of other captains and crews caught in the storm; he played it safe, softening the blows by insisting that maybe this happened and possibly that happened. But one can't make a film out of theories and conjecture, so Wittliff has gone through Junger's book and plundered from its fact-checked pages in order to bend and break the truth.

No longer are shark attacks (which happened to Murphy, on another boat) and tales of men dragged through the sea with hooks caught in their hands just historical anecdotes, tough-guy stories meant to illustrate how dangerous life at sea can be for these fishermen. Now, they happen to the crew of the Andrea Gail. It's as though their real-life tale weren't dramatic enough, so Wittliff gave it more weight -- enough to drag it to the bottom of the ocean.

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