Big Miracle
dir Ken Kwapis
scr Jack Amiel, Michael Begler
prd Tim Bevan, Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner, Steve Golin, Michael Sugar
with Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Ahmaogak Sweeney, John Pingayak, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Danson, Vinessa Shaw, James LeGros, Rob Riggle, John Chase
release US 3.Feb.12, UK 10.Feb.12
12/UK Universal 1h47
Big Miracle
On thick ice: Barrymore with Bambam

keasinski bell mulroney
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Big Miracle A grounding in the real-life story makes this film much less sentimental than it looks. Strong characters, some surprisingly dark touches and a genuinely thrilling series of events helps to engage us right to the end.

In 1988 Barrow, at the top of Alaska, aspiring reporter Adam (Krasinski) stumbles across three whales trapped beneath the icecap. Unable to reach the open sea, there's just a tiny hole in the ice that lets them breathe. Adam's report goes viral, grabbing the attention of America's press as well as his Greenpeace-activist ex Rachel (Barrymore). And the rescue effort will require an L.A. journalist (Bell), military pilot (Mulroney), Inuit boy (Sweeney), whale expert (Nelson), oil baron (Danson), White House rep (Shaw), two chuckleheads from Minnesota (LeGros and Riggle) and the Russian Navy.

More than a thriller about a trapped family of whales, this is a film about cooperation and generosity. And the script keeps everything in perspective while cleverly referencing various wrinkles in the 1988 political landscape, where political point-making is possibly more important than good will. This sense of gentle cynicism makes the film feel refreshingly honest while avoiding cloying manipulation.

It also has a cast that's adept at both comedy and drama, playing the tense scenes with earthy emotion and a twinkle in the eye that lets us know that they understand more than the script is telling us. As a result, each plot twist and glaring obstacle is faced with both a can-do attitude and the sense that it's probably impossible to save these whales (although the insipid title gives that away). But there several real-life events that a scriptwriter could never make up.

The result is a thoroughly entertaining family movie with a real sense of high-stakes peril. Watching these disparate people come together with a singular purpose (even if they have different motives) is genuinely inspirational given today's encouraging relentlessly divisive politics. And filmmaker Kwapis neither simplifies nor moralises about the complex issues. He tells the story in a way that never feels contrived, adding actual news footage and real people to the fictional touches. By the end, we can't help but cheer with them.

cert pg themes, language 22.Jan.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall