Adam (John Krasinski) is nearing the end of a few months reporting from Barrow, on the northern coast of Alaska and whilst out on the sheet ice filming someone pulling doughnuts on a snowmobile, spots a family of whales coming up for air in an isolated hole.
It turns out they are trapped, five miles from the open sea and unable to get to safety. Worse still, the hole is closing as the Arctic winter closes in. Can Adam, Greenpeace activist Rachel (Drew Barrymore) and seemingly cold-hearted oil boss J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson) drum up enough local, national and global support to rescue the whales before time runs out?
The “based on a true story” tag that precedes this charming if slightly toothless film can be a bit of a worrying portent, but actually helps overcome what would otherwise be mounting incredulity at the astonishing global reach achieved by the plight of these whales (named Fred, Wilma & Bam-Bam – yes that should be Pebbles, but as someone notes, the calf is a boy, so what could they do?). First the initially cynical oil boss offers to help, then the Alaskan governor ropes in the National Guard, before finally President Reagan calls Gorbachev to bring in the assistance of a Soviet ice-breaker.
Perhaps the only thing more astonishing than the developments of the story is the eclectic cast, which in addition to those already mentioned includes Tim Blake Nelson, Kristen Bell and Dermot Mulroney. Given that the story comprises no human drama whatsoever and it looks unlikely that the whales won’t eventually find their way to freedom, it is to the film-makers’ credit that they’ve drawn together such a capable cast, which helps anchor the film when it might otherwise seem twee and slight.
There are plenty of warm, amusing moments, especially from two business partners from Minnesota who turn up unannounced with a home-made ice-thawing kit and Adam’s friendship with a young boy whose grandfather wants to teach him how to hunt but who is more interested in listening to Def Leppard on his Walkman is well-written and endearingly played. The direction is unexceptional but capable and although there is little to suggest that director Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That Into You, The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants) can move beyond “workmanlike”, there are a few compelling shots of the bleak, blank, but beautiful Arctic ice fields that help to leaven the mix.
The pacing is just fine – perhaps a fraction over-long at 105 minutes for a film of this type, but not problematically so. If the script is hamstrung to a degree by the relatively uneventful true story which seems to resist all efforts by the script-writers to wring any tension out of the narrative, it makes the best of the escalating global interest in the story and relatively believably ratchets up the involvement of bigger and bigger guns. We could have done without a Reagan impersonator ringing up “Gorby” though.
In the end, the excellent cast, most of whom could do this sort of material in their sleep, elevate this material above movie of the week predictability and the end product is enjoyable, heart-warming fare which goes to show that not everything needs to be laced with cynicism or irony – you can play it straight and audiences will still find something to enjoy. Good, harmless fun and available here from 4th June to rent and from early August to buy.
Extras: None. Which isn’t very good at all.