During this long movie, an insidious feeling bubbles up that perhaps New Englanders thrive just a mite much on discomfort and risk.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"White Squall" is a rite of passage movie that is filmed beautifully in spectacular locations that can't quite make up for a very real failure in defining the players. With characters that blur, one into the other, this sea epic turns into a long, long sail.

The Ocean Academy is a floating prep school that believes in literature and the sea as the avenues to leadership. This movie is the true story of that school's catastrophic voyage under the command of Headmaster/Captain Christopher Sheldon (Jeff Bridges), who assembles his crew of 16 young boys to sail halfway around the world on the brigantine "Albatross."

The boys arrive in a predictable mix of the geek, the rich man's son, the show-off, the bully, and variations of these stereotypes. They are a tempestuous group fighting angrily among themselves even before they leave the dock. And where is Headmaster Sheldon? He simply appears mysteriously from time to time. He materializes--heroically.

The mythic skipper stands tall for 16 hours during an early storm. It is during this crisis that ordinary mortals ask themselves why, in the face of nature's most powerful forces of wind and water, no one ever connects himself to the boat with a rope, or, God forbid, wears a lifebelt. The risk is so ludicrous that it mocks the theory of responsibility that is the theme of the film.

By whatever label--Yankee, WASP, Puritan--New Englanders love to train leaders. Outward Bound and its imitators, along with a wide array of eastern prep schools, treasure the image of the quiet, strong, intelligent leader who has come to strength through some daunting academic or physical challenge. They learn courage, responsibility, and loyalty, and they wear these qualities quietly. Bravado disqualifies.

During this long movie, an insidious feeling bubbles up that perhaps New Englanders thrive just a mite much on discomfort and risk. Must we always suffer in order to grow? But through it all, the group begins to jell. They have to, after all, because the white squall is coming.

When it does, the strength of it lies in its truth. The real captain and several of the boys were technical advisors on the film, so a hint of authenticity clings to the ferocious scenes. When the ordeal is over, the survivors return to families who will never understand their ordeal. Whatever the value of this adventure, parents will never again understand their sons, nor sons their parents.

Jeff Bridges is quite good as Sheldon, but the part as written makes it inexplicable that any headmaster would not have closer control of his charges. The young actors are similar in type, making it hard to follow their animosities and problems. Caroline Goodall is entirely credible as the wife who embraces her husband's passion for the lessons of life at sea. All of them make clear that, in this true story, becoming "quiet leaders" exacted a terrible price.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 493
Studio : Hollywood Pictures
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 2h 8m

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