American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Perfect Storm" is a well-crafted example of a film of pure sensation. It is about ships tossed by a violent storm. The film doesn't have complex and involving characters, but they are not needed. It doesn't tell a sophisticated story and doesn't need to; the main events are known to most of the audience before the movie begins. All depends on the storm. I do not mind admitting I was enthralled.
The movie, based on the best-seller by Sebastian Junger, is mostly about a fishing ship named the Andrea Gail, out of Gloucester, Mass., which had the misfortune in 1991 of running into "the middle of the monster" when three great storm systems collided in the Atlantic. We learn about the economic pressures of the swordfishing industry, we meet the crew members and their women, we learn a little of their stories, and then the film is about the ship, the storm and the people waiting in port for news. In a parallel story, about a luxury sailboat in distress, cranks up the suspense even further.
The crew members of the Andrea Gail are a job lot of basic movie types. We count Capt. Billy Tyne (George Clooney), whose pride has been stung because his catch has fallen behind this season. His crew includes Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), who is in love with divorced mom Diane Lane; Murph (John C. Reilly), whose seafaring life has led to a friendly but sad separation from his wife and son; Bugsy (John Hawkes), the sort of character who gets overlooked in crowds; Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne), a Jamaican who has ventured into northern waters for the paycheck, and a last-minute addition, Sully (William Fichtner). He and Murph don't like each other. Why not? Jealousy over Murph's wife, the movie says. To provide the plot with onboard conflict is my guess.
These characters are not developed in the way that similar seafarers might be developed in a novel by Joseph Conrad or Herman Melville. We learn only their external signs and characteristics; we don't know or much care what makes them tick. That's not a fatal flaw to the film, because "The Perfect Storm" is not about the people, but about the storm. When Conrad writes Lord Jim or Melville writes Moby Dick, the stories are about the way men's characters interact with the sea and with their shipmates. Those books are novels about people.