Movie Review: Big Miracle
For years, a bevy of animated films have dominated a youthful genre that is defined by a rare duality: appropriate and meaningful for children, while appealing and captivating enough for adults. The best of these films, and there seem to be many (Toy Story 3, WALL-E, Despicable Me, Shrek, et alia), have helped dissolve a gap separating entertainment based on age.
Rarely does a live action film fit into this category, as the constraints of reality creep in, but in Big Miracle, a tale inspired from the true events of the 1988 Alaskan rescue of three trapped grey whales directed by Ken Kwapis, there exists entertainment, emotion, and more than a bit of humour, that transcends age.
It is not a cartoon, but two of the stars with the most face-time, John Krasinski of The Office fame, and Drew Barrymore, both have a similar, cartoonish lovability around them, whether it is their occasionally goofy mugs, their lilting, infectious voices, or the simple fact that one was a child star (Barrymore), and the other plays a child on television (Krasinski).
Shortly after an opening that features the Inuits of Alaska, a group of people that make up one of the many clashing sides of the story, Adam Carlson (Krasinski), enters as the ambitious and charming small-time reporter who has grown to love the small town of Barrow, though not the lack of stories it offers.
As fluff pieces are quickly exhausted, a new avenue serendipitously appears, one made of blubber. Three grey whales, a father, mother, and son, dotingly named after Flintstones, have found themselves an icy grave as they have but one small opening in the ice from which to breathe, and none other close enough to survive for long.
Like a snowball rolling down a hill gaining in speed and size, the story captures the attention of Rachel Kramer of Greenpeace (Barrymore), an influential oil executive, a pair of salt-of-the-Earth inventors, an aide to the President of the United States, the national news, the international news, and of course, the heart of every child, young and old.
With only days until the whales will run out of space to breath, groups and individuals with varying interests descend upon Barrow, which is more than happy to welcome the attention and money. The story is paced with actual news footage, as Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather join in on the reporting once the story gains a widespread audience. The voice of President Ronald Reagan makes one or two appearances as well.
The film is perfectly casted with countless lovable characters, from wealthy curmudgeons (Ted Danson, Stephen Root), to brilliant oafs (Rob Riggle, James LeGros), and from patriotic romantics (Dermont Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw), to endearing whale-friendly sidekick Tim Blake Nelson and a scene-stealing John Michael Higgins as an awful, fame-seeking star reporter.
What is appealing for older crowds is the way in which the many main characters are portrayed, not as black and white caricatures, but as people with personal and professional interests and conflicting emotions. Adam Carlson wants to help the whales, but he wants to himself propel his career, as does blond Los Angeles reporter Jill Jerard (Kristin Bell). Oil executive J.W. McGraw has capital and drilling in mind, Kramer and Greenpeace stand to profit as well. Even Malik, an Inuit whose family has hunted and survived off whales for lifetimes must skirt the line between personal desire and national reputation.
His son Nathan (Ahmagak Sweeney) is the bridge between two worlds: the spiritual realm of his people and his father, and the ambitious, though cruel reality of Carlson, of whom Malik befriends and greatly admires.
Everyone wants to aid their own goals, but everyone wants to help the whales, and not everyone is able to compromise those desires. The characters may not reach the greatest depths of nuance, but two-dimensional they are not. The story hints upon political and geopolitical ramifications of an attempted whale rescue, as well as what how the individuals futures of Carlson, Kramer, Jerard, among others, are benefitted whether or not the whales live.
Be sure to stay for the credits, where shoots from the movie are paralleled with actually documented footage of the event, and where some of the casting, in particular the two folksy inventors of Minnesota, become even more hilariously enjoyed and all too real.
Big Miracle is an apt title for the effortlessly enjoyable and warm-hearted story it tells and the wonderful, if chilly, escape it presents for audiences living in a world with many strong divisions. The movie shows people who act with their interests in mind, but they don’t only act their interests in mind. The tale of life, death, and ambition, is neither softened for child nor over-dramatized for adults. It is simple a well executed reality-inspired fable, one from which you can glean whatever you please.