'Big Miracle': Breathing life into tale of three trapped whales
A movie review of "Big Miracle," an enjoyable dramedy about an unlikely coalition of forces working together to save three trapped whales in Barrow, Alaska. John Krasinski and Drew Barrymore star.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Big Miracle,' with John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, John Pingayak, James LeGros, Rob Riggle. Directed by Ken Kwapis, from a screenplay by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, based on the book "Freeing the Whales" by Thomas Rose. 107 minutes. Rated PG for language. Several theaters.
If you were around in 1988, do you remember what you were doing when news broke about the outcome of a crisis in Barrow, Alaska, involving three gray whales?
The plight of that whale family wasn't exactly on the level of an assassination or major terrorist act. Nevertheless, the story of those seemingly doomed creatures trapped by ice well above the Arctic Circle, struggling to breathe in a small, slowly shrinking hole, captured the American public's attention over several days.
The situation also galvanized a rare coalition of forces more accustomed to conflict with one another — big oil and environmental activists, the U.S. and Soviet Union — to work together to save the whales.
It's amazing a movie hasn't been made about these Reagan-era events before now. But the enjoyable "Big Miracle" offers perspective, balancing sentiment with healthy skepticism about human motivations.
Directed by Ken Kwapis, whose many credits include coproducing HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" and the American version of "The Office," the family-friendly, wide-eyed "Big Miracle" unexpectedly has the air of a workplace comedy played out in subzero weather.
As with those sitcoms, "Big Miracle" is about a variety of characters trying to get something done while conflicts and emotions run high.
"The Office's" John Krasinski is in familiar form as good guy Adam Carlson, a TV journalist who breaks the whale story and draws major press to remote Barrow. He's soon joined by his ex-girlfriend, a strident Greenpeace warrior (Drew Barrymore); an oil-company executive (Ted Danson); a struggling reporter (Kristen Bell); a National Guard officer (Dermot Mulroney); an Inupiat whaler (John Pingayak) and many more.
Kwapis takes a wary look at the way so many of these people (and the White House) get involved because of the public relations possibilities of a rescue. He finds a lot of humor in it, too, including a pair of semi-hapless Minnesota inventors (James LeGros and Rob Riggle) who schlep to Barrow with a de-icing gizmo they're trying to publicize.
Eventually, individual agendas give way to collective conviction, and if "Big Miracle" just skirts treacle, it also indulges Kwapis' cheekier side. (Don't miss that glimpse of Sarah Palin during closing credits.)
Tom Keogh: email@example.com