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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Big Miracle | Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ahmayogak Sweeney, Kathy Baker, Ted Danson | Review

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4_Chicks_Small Judy Thorburn

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Big Miracle

When a true life event draws the attention of the international media and has an impact on the masses, you can almost bet Hollywood is destined to adapt that story to the big screen, especially when it has a happy ending.

Big Miracle can be added to the long list of films that fits the bill since it is inspired by true events. The key word is “inspired” and script writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler have taken creative license by adding some fictional sideline characters and subplots which, thankfully, don't distract from the main focus.

Based on the Thomas Rose's book "Freeing the Whales", the story revolves around the rescue mission to save a family of three majestic grey whales that were trapped beneath the ever freezing waters off the coast of Barrow, Alaska and were at risk of drowning in their attempt to migrate to warmer seas.

The year was 1988 and the first person to notice that the whales were in trouble was Adam Carlson (John Krasinski, from TV's The Office) a TV reporter from Anchorage sent to the small town of Barrow near the Arctic Circle to report on something totally unrelated. While there, he befriends Nathan (newcomer Ahmayogak Sweeney) a young boy from the local Inupiat tribe, who is more interested in the modern world and not the traditions of his heritage.

One day, during an outdoor shoot, Adams eyes something strange in the distance and soon discovers two adult whales and their baby struggling for air in a small hole in the ice. On their long underwater migration the whales can't swim five miles without coming up for air, but the waters have turned to solid ice. Unable to break the ice with their heads, the whales are trapped beneath the only hole and are gradually losing their strength an ability to stay alive. The baby already shows signs of injury to her nose and could be the first to perish, if help doesn't come soon.

Adam shoots some video of his sighting and sends it back to his TV station in Anchorage to air. Before too long the story of the trapped whales goes viral (a term not used that way back then), drawing the attention of Jill Jerrard (Kristen Bell) an ambitious Los Angeles TV reporter, eager to head to the scene and land a scoop. Word also gets out to Adam's former girlfriend, Rachel Kramer (a fiery, appealing Drew Barrymore) a totally committed Greenpeace activist and animal lover (loosely based on Cindy Lowry). She can't get there fast enough to do anything she can to help save the desperate creatures in dire need of human intervention, which are given the nicknames, Fred, Wilma, and Bamm-Bamm. As the news draws an onslaught of media and visitors from all over, the local Mexican restaurant and hotel inflate their prices astronomically to take advantage of the situation.

In the meantime, the native Eskimos whose customs are to hunt and live off the land, want to harvest the whales for food, but are convinced by Malik (John Pingalak), their wise elder and leader of the tribe, that they should help in freeing the whales. If not he says, “all the world would see is blood and they would be considered heartless hunters.”

Back in Colorado, Ruth (Kathy Baker) the wife of, wealthy oil magnate J. W. McGraw (Ted Danson) who just won the rights to drill in Alaska, feels sympathy for the whales and influences her hubby that it would be good PR to send a barge and help join in the rescue effort.

Others that come aboard the bandwagon are National Guard pilot, Colonel Scott Boyer (Dermot Mulroney) recruited to lead a helicopter and a hovercraft icebreaker; top White House aide Kelly Myers (Vinessa Shaw) and a pair of wacky Minnesotans, Dean Glowacki (Rob Riggle) and James Legros (Karl Hootkin) eager to make good with their de-icer invention, and eventually, when all else fails, President Reagan (an impersonator, only seen from the back) asking Gorbechov to send in a powerful Soviet ice-breaker vessel.

Smaller roles are filled by John Michael Higgins (as TV reporter Wes Handrick, Jill's colleague/nemesis) Stephen Root (as the Alaska Governor) and Tim Blake Nelson, representing the Alaskan Wildlife Management Dept.

Everyone has their own motives for helping out. What matters is the result and Big Miracle sends a important message about people overcoming their differences and joining forces for a common, humane cause.

Nicely integrated in the story are scenes from the original rescue mission and actual archival news footage featuring Dan Rather, Connie Chung, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw. Be sure not to leave during the closing credits or you will miss several “where are they now” clips, one with the infamous Joey Buttafuoco and another featuring former Alaska TV weather girl who has since moved into the political arena.

Big Miracle features a terrific cast, some humorous moments and is never manipulative. Best of all, it is an inspirational, touching, family film for people of all ages to enjoy

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