When an actor is made to dive into flaming water and succeed in swimming
impossible distances or be burned trying, the film capturing it is documentary. Director Wolfgang Petersen (Troy
, Air Force One
) gave his eight leading actors catastrophic situations, filmed their heroic struggles and dangers in fulfilling the conditions of the scripted events and called it Poseidon
Poseidon starts out as fiction. And at the start, the cinematography of John Seale (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) calls to mind the innovative opening shots of Master and Commander, which reinforces the illusion of fiction. The fiction is further developed as the character whom the principal actors play are introduced and set up in relation to each other. Then the disaster strikes, bringing to mind the disaster sequence in Titanic, and these characters are thrown into situations that are so demanding that the separation between actor and character is but a thin, thin veneer, which is sometimes broken through.
A luxury cruise ship is at sea with a full passenger list and a beautiful singer (Stacy Ferguson) to entertain the passengers in grand latin-rhythm style. A gambler (Josh Lucas) is aboard, seated at the Captain’s table, along with a beautiful young, composed, self-confident single mother (Jacinda Barrett), her only child a precocious and uninhibited boy of about 9-years old (Jimmy Bennett). At another table is seated a group of business associates, one of whom (Richard Dreyfuss) treats the others lavishly and then takes a near-fateful walk. At an after-dinner card table the gambler faces an ex-fireman cum ex-mayor of New York (Kurt Russell) who is traveling with his college-age daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her adoring, gentlemanly boyfriend (Mike Vogel). Without her father’s knowledge, as yet, she has accepted the young man’s proposal of marriage. A young waiter (Freddy Rodriguez) makes himself useful to these guests, as needed, and to a young woman who is trying to make her way to New York (Mia Maestro) whom he has smuggled aboard.
From out of nowhere a murderous rouge wave appears. The crew in the control room do their best to execute saving maneuvers…and the wave hits. Thus is begun the fate of the Poseidon and of the eight people who by chance come together for one fateful, extraordinarily well documented adventure as they try to fight a path to the uppermost layers of the upturned luxury ship.
The directing, cinematography, and editing (Peter Honess) in this film work together flawlessly to capture the events and emotions, choices and tragedies of people (hmm…why didn’t I say characters?) facing impossible situations and…well do they come through them to safety? And, as to their roles, where do the characters end and the individuals show through? I’m sure you can point to each exact spot.
The actors are all courageous as well as talented. Josh Lucas showed his inner steel and fire in Glory Road in the many close-ups meant to capture just that. Petersen draws on this and expands it, taking Lucas’s display of inner strengths to their ultimate extension. And Lucas passes the test of valor he is put through. So as not to spoil anything, I’ll let you make your own decisions about his character, Dylan Johns. Emmy Rossum already showed her courage and stamina in Phantom of the Opera and Day After Tomorrow; and in Poseidon she is given a chance to show even more as daughter, Jennifer Ramsey. Kurt Russell, as Robert Ramsey, delivers one moment that ought to live as one of the greatest moments in film history, when all he says is “Thank you.” All of the others are equally laudable in their portrayals, from the Captain (Andre Braugher) to the drunken rouge (Kevin Dillon). There is just one false note (and it can be forgiven). The young mother, Maggie James, played by Jacinda Barrett, just doesn’t display the real feelings of terror a devoted mother would feel if her son wandered away in a life and death emergency situation, especially if he wandered away…again.
The character development represented a tight collaborative effort between Petersen and screenplay writer, new-comer, Mark Protosevich. The introduction, brief as it is, strongly establishes the personalties of the eight principals. As they go through their trials by fire, things change, and in the end, each one has been turned inside out. In the end each is adorned by her or his true inner nature and humanity. This is the most authentic revelation of the best in human truth that I have ever seen. Remarkable achievement.
In short, when you get to the ending and see this character development and truly know these people inside and out, you forgive the opening, smacking as it does of imitations. You come to see that Poseidon is nothing like other movies; Poseidon is an entity unto itself.
The biggest question I have is about the wisdom (and sanity) of bringing Reality TV principles onto the big screen. So much more is at stake in big explosive movies. I’d like to rate Poseidon very highly because of its true excellence, but I must rate it lower because of the reckless way it abandons the sanctity of human life (as with The Da Vinci Code which abandoned the sanctity of the human psyche). Should you see it? Yes! Should you approve it? No! Should there be more like this fiction/ documentary from the mind and hand of Petersen or others? Absolutely not. So how many stars does that add up to? Excellence mixed with the unconscionable? Two stars.