Big Miracle

19 Feb

Title: Big Miracle
Year: 2012
Director: Ken Kwapis
Writers: Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, based on the book by Thomas Rose
Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Vinessa Shaw, Stephen Root, Ted Danson, Dermot Mulroney
MPAA Rating: PG, language
Runtime: 107 min
IMDb Rating: 5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Metacritic: 61

 

I really wasn’t expecting Big Miracle to work for me, it seemed like a schmaltzy kind of family drama that wouldn’t be my cup of tea at all, but the film uses the real-life events it draws from, as well as its immensely likable cast, to deliver a film that’s, surprisingly, quite enjoyable. It tells the story of Operation Breakthrough, the 1988 international effort to rescue three gray whales trapped under rapidly forming ice near Point Barrow in Alaska. John Krasinski is here playing a TV reporter who finds out about this and does a piece on them which goes from regional to local to national and suddenly to international, garnering worldwide attention and putting into motion the rescue effort, with Greenpeace activists, native Inupiat tribespeople of Alaska who hunt whales and everyone in between joining in the efforts.

Like I said, from that description alone it seems as though Big Miracle would be this extra-saccharine, one-dimensional, bland kind of film. But it really isn’t once you think about it, at least not all that much, I mean yes it’s a crowd-pleasing kind of film but it doesn’t pretend that absolutely everyone is just a super great person or anything; for instance, take Mr. Krasinski’s reporter character, Adam, it’s not like he thought “Oh, poor whales, let’s do a story on them so they can be saved”, not at all, his line of thinking was much closer to “Oh, whales trapped under ice, maybe this will be the big story that will propel me to bigger markets, my ticket to fame”. That’s right, people do the right thing here, but it’s self-interest that many times is behind those decisions. Though of course by the time they’re done they’ll realize they actually enjoyed this and aren’t such bad people after all and yadda yadda.

And it’s good that it does that, because the film doesn’t make everyone out to be saint-like which is good because it keeps it grounded in reality while at the same times it’s not a super cynical kind of movie that wouldn’t mesh with their target audience. The script finds a balanced way in which to tell this story, basing it on the real-life circumstances that make for a great story and then certainly making some stuff up for it to be a big crowd-pleaser. But still, this story is just awesome, it captured the world a couple decades ago the way the Chilean miners one did recently. And again, I loved that it didn’t make everyone look super nice; you know the Reagan administration stepped in because it had a crappy environmental record, and you know that the oil executive joins in to get some nice publicity.

The lovely Drew Barrymore is here as Adam’s ex-girlfriend who’s an idealistic Greenpeace activist, the one character in here that really does stuff here selflessly (and at the same time she’s the most irritating character, go figure). Kristen Bell, a seriously huge animal-lover in real life, is also here as a reporter from L.A. who’s just really out of her element. And yeah, of course there will be a romantic triangle of sorts developing between them and Adam, something that clearly didn’t happen in the real-life event. Those are our three main players, and they are three of the most charming and likable stars we have today so of course Big Miracle will be easy to consume. But alongside them we have a slew of supporting characters played by a number of recognizable faces from Ted Danson to John Michael Higgins, and even though these characters aren’t written all that nicely, you have these actors who, apparently aware of that, just have a lot of fun with the roles which makes the film much more bearable than it really should be.

Plus we are suckers for cool animals, too, just look at how many videos of them go viral on YouTube every so often, so of course we’ll be inclined to see a film about saving whales. And director Ken Kwapis does a good job handling this film, actually creating a really nice sense of suspense as the huge international effort works against the clock to save these whales. As unnecessary and fake as some of the subplots may feel, you really do get to invest into the main one, and you start rooting for people working together for a bigger and better cause, many times working alongside people they’d otherwise be not all that friendly with; I’d be lying if I said the sweetness of this one didn’t get to me at times.

Big Miracle isn’t a terrific film by any means and there are more than a few parts of it that didn’t work. But for every one of those there are also bits that really do work tremendously well, and in a world in which family films nowadays are more childish than they are adult, this one does manage to strike up a rather nice balance between the two. It manages to touch on a real-life event that was really quite mesmerizing and builds upon that a story that ends up being far better than it really should have been, a lot of that having to do with the fact that it had some really good actors doing a lot with very little.

Grade: B-

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