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White Squall (1996)


You have to respect any movie with enough guts to use the word ‘squall’ in its title. Brought to us by stellar director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise), and pitched as ‘Dead Poets Society on a boat,’ White Squall ends up as a passable film, but won’t being going down as one of the director’s best productions, much less an equal to Poets.

White Squall is the true story of the Albatross, a ship carrying 13 boys as students of the Ocean Academy, a school-at-sea on which Christopher Sheldon (Jeff Bridges) is the captain. Setting sail in 1960 for a year-long voyage ‘half way around the world and back,’ the boys learn about discipline, facing ones fears, the joys of Danish schoolgirls, alcohol, venereal disease, and they occasionally even find some time to study.

In a completely unexpected turn of events (never mind the TV commercials) near the end of the tour, the ship encounters a mythical ‘white squall’ (basically a mini-hurricane) and capsizes. (I won’t spoil the ensuing aftermath like every other review you’ll read.)

White Squall is really hard to get in to, and it’s even harder to like. For a full hour, the ship is docked, and we explore the coming-of-age of these kids who are just absolutely hideous: there’s the fighting, taunting, vomiting, dolphin-killing, pants-wetting, and toilet-exploding that makes the film seem like it should have starred ex-Saturday Night Live cast members. (As it is, the 13 boys are almost exactly alike with the exception of 1 or 2 with actual personalities.) And it’s not just gross, it’s predictable and over-simplistic.

This is all bad, yes, but believe me, you’ll forget all about it when The Big Storm hits and the film reaches its watery climax. Scott really jumps into the film here, regaining his old sense of suspense, constructing an intricate and visually stunning sequence of events that lead to the gripping climax: the sinking of the Albatross. These are probably the best action scenes ever filmed on water, and they fully redeem the film for its earlier failures.

While the denouement is basically another bummer of a letdown, you’ll still be coming off that adrenaline rush from the ‘squall scenes.’ Extra points if you even remember the ending after you leave… or any of the rest of the film, for that matter.