White Squall - * * *

White Squall is a coming of age story set amid triumph and tragedy. The Ocean Academy is sort of a floating prep school. Crusty captain Christopher Sheldon (Jeff Bridges) runs the school from his ship the Albatross. A group of thirteen high school boys are brought on the ship to help crew her on a 12,000 mile voyage, as well as to learn and build character. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Chuck Gieg (Scott Wolf), a newcomer to the Academy, and who is trying to earn the approval of his career-oriented father. Most of the crew have their own problems of course, including an acrophobic, the tough guy (who of course hides his problems from the rest of the crew), and even a sociopathic rich kid. Through hard work, the kids bond with each other, and even the captain. Things are going fine and dandy…then the squall hits. A rare meteorogical event causes a sudden horrifically violent storm that tests the skills and courage of the crew and the captain ultimately to the breaking point. The squall and its aftermath add much needed dimension to the film, raising it above the typical coming-of-age story. The main problem, unfortunately, are the scenes before the storm. The stock characters and situations could have been lifted straight out of Dead Poet’s Society, or any other such film, and slapped down on a boat. There’s nothing new there. Jeff Bridges does a good (though familiar) job as the gruff mentor of the boys. The film’s strength is its director, Ridley Scott. The visuals throughout the movie are exhilarating, and the squall scene in particular is pulled off spectacularly (if a bit chaotically). The scene is so powerful, it almost washes away the taint of familiarity…almost.

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