Title: Big Miracle
Director: Ken Kwapis
Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson, John Pingayak, Tim Blake Nelson, Kristen Bell, Ahmaogak Sweeney, Vinessa Shaw
Well, check your heart at the door but feel free to bring in your selfish urges. Big Miracle uses the back-drop of a heartwarming true tale and blasts you with greedy human nature for the majority of the 107 minutes. And you know what, that’s a pretty admirable approach for the genre.
Now eventually the warm-fuzzy stuff eventually does find its way into this adaptation of the 1988 news story that captured the world’s attention. Yet instead of going all Free Willy and/or Dolphin Tale on us, with regards to the tone, the script shows audiences a completely different perspective via all of the players who were involved in the situation back then.
Set in frigid Point Barrow, Alaska, a family of three gray whales become more-or-less trapped by the rapidly freezing Arctic waters. They were on their way to migrate south, but the rapidly dropping temperatures have frozen the sea all the way to the ocean floor, blocking their only path. Since they must come up to breathe every so often, they find a small hole in the ice and begin to tread water around their only breathing source. As more people learn of their predicament, everyone from the locals all the way up to the President of the United States lend a hand…a greedy hand.
Aside from Drew Barrymore, who plays a vocal Greenpeace official, the rest of the cast are helping out for all the wrong reasons for the most part. Struggling news anchors John Krasinski and Kristen Bell believe this is their big break to the big time. Oil mogul Ted Danson is looking for some positive PR since many in the area are not pleased with his oil drilling tactics. Vinessa Shaw plays a White House Aide who leverages this story around getting Vice President George Bush momentum in the polls for the upcoming election. And then there’s Dermot Mulroney, depicting a colonel in the National Guard, who questions why he is risking his men’s lives for a few whales?
It seems everyone has an agenda in trying to save the whales yet only a handful of them are pure. This is an interesting approach for what should be a feel good family movie. But does this really surprise anybody? While the goal is trying to save nature this really speaks volumes to our human nature. There is a moment in the script where Krasinski is yapping with his young local pal, Ahmaogak Sweeney, and Krasinski is observing him profit off the armada of reporters who weren’t quite prepared for the low-key town and harsh elemental temperatures upon arriving at the story site. Krasinski casually says something along the lines of, “Take it easy Gordon Gekko” (a reference to the recently released Wall Street movie during that time period). And he’s spot on. The characters in this story are a Gordon Gekko army. In other words, “How can this benefit me?” And while they heart of the story does come to the surface, the unique storytelling angle really drums up emotion within the viewer and keeps you focused on what is happening on screen.
Plus the filmmaking mechanics are handled in a fluent manner. The way they spliced in the authentic newscast footage from nearly twenty-five years ago was a nice touch. The underwater shots will leave one in awe. And with the pacing steady, the wide-spectrum of characters are given ample time to present who they are and why they acted in such a manner.
Overall, Big Miracle is told from a cynical point of view that may catch you off-guard. Personally, the deviating from the typical genre pattern, and not sugar-coating the harsh reality of the situation, is a more than welcomed approach.
By the way, anyone else think the head shots of the whales look like the creatures from Tremors? Kept thinking they were just going to eat someone out of nowhere.
By Joe Belcastro – Member of the Florida Film Critics Circle