1990's, Adventure, Balthazar Getty, Based on a true story, Caroline Goodall, Coming-of-Age, Eric Michael Cole, Jeff Bridges, Jeremy Sisto, John Savage, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Ridley Scott, Ryan Phillippe, Scott Wolf
- Jeff Bridges as Captain Christopher “Skipper” Sheldon
- Scott Wolf as Chuck Gieg
- Jeremy Sisto as Frank Beaumont
- Ryan Phillippe as Gil Martin
- Eric Michael Cole as Dean Preston
- Balthazar Getty as Tod Johnstone
- Caroline Goodall as Alice Sheldon
- John Savage as McCrea
- Julio Oscar Mechoso as Girard
Inspired by true events of a ship that acted as a school and learning ground in seafaring, plus the storm they ran into along the way, Ridley Scott’s White Squall is an underrated adventure/coming of age film that while a tad formulaic, is riveting entertainment and spectacle throughout.
It is the early 60’s and a group of teenagers sign up to sail on a ship known as the Albatross for several months. The curriculum is both a mixture of scholarly work and more importantly the practical seafaring variety. The ship is commanded by experienced and tough Captain Christopher Sheldon, who is referred to throughout as Skipper. He is a take no prisoners captain who doesn’t tolerate slacking or idleness. The ship also has Skipper’s wife and medic Alice, English teacher McCrea and cook Girard on board. The main boys comprise of personable and searching Chuck Gieg(who also functions as narrator), the much abused and insecure rich kid Frank Beaumont, timid and vulnerable Gil Martin, misbehaving show off Dean Preston and wise-cracking Tod Johnstone . Their voyage will take them through the South Pacific and the Caribbean, and be a rites of passage for all. At first, the ragtag group of recruits is at odds with Skipper’s methods and continually rebel. His rigorous training takes flight as he expects them to learn discipline, respect and teamwork while aboard. Not that this will be easy as the boys test him with all they’ve got in various ways. He however is not above this challenge and enforces his authority with his tests and Gradually, a newfound respect and sense of teamwork is discovered among them all. They all manage to bond together to form a skilled set of young men, with Skipper growing quietly fond and protective of them. Experiencing misadventures and mishaps binds them as a group and the training from Skipper more than pays off. Yet just as everyone is coming together, disaster lurks in the distance. They find themselves coming into the view of a ferocious storm, which will test each and every one of them as danger approaches.
Within Ridley Scott at the helm, you know the direction isn’t going to disappoint. And Scott brings his trademark eye for visuals to this exciting story, while still getting to the human heart of the themes of survival and camaraderie. Scott has this tale under his command and allows us time to learn about the crew before disaster hits later on. Spectacle is something Ridley Scott does superbly, but his equally excellent building of emotion and heart is also worthy of praise, particularly in White Squall. Gorgeous vistas and sights are glimpsed, presenting life at sea as something ripping but just as easily challenging and not for the weak of heart. The coming of age aspects of White Squall are far from original but we’ll plated and envisioned. It helps that you buy into the initially green boys growing up and after scrapping and disagreements in the beginning, can be there for each other and pull their weight in times that it is needed. The movie isn’t perfect however, with some of it really going too slow. I believe that because you know imminent tragedy will come you are waiting for it to happen, and it can make you impatient. This presents both a slight flaw and a positive; the build up at least establishes quite a few of the characters to us and let’s us observe their changes under the tutelage of the Skipper, while it can get to be a chore when you’re anticipating the big set piece to flower. Any in pace is however made up when the storm hits and we are dealt an exciting and emotion driven wallop. Using fast cuts, slow motion and stirring yet tense music, the scene is an extended action piece that is mightily impressive in almost every aspect. This intense and ferocious scene where we see the boys go beyond everything they’ve learned can to survive and face danger head on is one of considerable impact and vision. I can’t wax lyrical enough about this scene and what it accomplishes, both on an action level and on emotional clarity. The ending chapter feels a tad tacked on, but can be forgiven for what has come before. A dramatic score is just the ticket for this movie, finding both beauty and danger in its rhythms.
Jeff Bridges exudes a tough, compelling yet fair persona as the captain, mostly referred to as Skipper. He’s the kind of man to keep you in line but reward you if you comply and be part of the team. Bridges boasts a dignity and wry wisdom that inspires both admiration and trepidation among the boys. For me, Jeff Bridges has always been a fine actor when he quietly and subtly gets into part, which is what he does in White Squall. A sea-captain often allows the opportunity to overact and be loud, but Bridges has a more disciplined and nuanced angle that is largely more effective than over dramatic antics. You believe him as this leader because if the commanding energy and the fact that he doesn’t care whether his crew likes him, as long as they pull together even needed. A finely tuned and thoughtfully played performance from the great Jeff Bridges is what we get. Scott Wolf is the main eyes and ears of the film, providing the narration and likable attitude of the movie. He has a certain wonder in his eyes as he observes the events on the ship and he makes a really great lead character. Jeremy Sisto is very impressive, digging into the troubled mind of a spoiled kid, constantly berated by his father and singled out. If this kid could only get a break, he might be able to flourish. Ryan Phillippe is appropriately scared and in a muddle, mainly down to the character feeling he is so weak in all of this, when he’s actually pretty smart. The classic bully comes in the form of Eric Michael Cole, who reveals that he’s really a shy person with no self-esteem that is complimented by Balthazar Getty as the know it all joker. Though these characters feel rather archetypal in the scope of things, they are acted with sincerity. While the previously mentioned actors get parts that they can work with, the rest are awash in a sea of white T-shirts and suntan. As the main woman in the film, Caroline Goodall isn’t given a whole lot to do, but still shows her mettle when the occasion calls for it. John Savage provides some comic relief as the ship’s sonnet quoting teacher along with Julio Oscar Mechoso.
While it’s nothing particularly new, White Squall succeeds in the strength of its story, acting and command under Scott’s stylish yet emotive and exciting direction. For my money, this is a pretty undervalued movie in Scott’s filmography that deserves a watch.