This is an adventure rescue story about whales, native Alaskans, news reporters, tree-huggers, politicians, oil executives and seafaring Russians. It’s original and enjoyable and serves as a reminder that the Good Samaritan didn’t just have good intentions. He also had cash.
Adam (John Krasinski) is shooting a video for a local newspaper when his lens picks up something quite phenomenal. A family of three whales, aka Wilma, Fred and Bam-Bam, have poked a hole through the thick layer of ice that covers the coastline and they are taking it in turns to bob up to the surface for air.
To survive, they need to swim beyond the ice to the open ocean but they can’t travel that far underwater so they are trapped, and are becoming exhausted from the effort of treading water. By chance, Adam’s story gets picked up by the national press and it attracts the attention of a Greenpeace volunteer (Drew Barrymore), the President of an international oil company (Ted Danson), the US government and many, many more.
The first person we meet is Adam, and it initially appears that the story is going to be told from his point of view, but then other characters pop up, bringing with them agendas that don’t always sit well with the theme. This often makes the story lose focus and events seem contrived, in particular a sub-plot about two strangers who show up with an ice-melting machine, which borders on the bizarre.
The same issues are apparent with the plot, which is essentially simple but at first it’s not clear that the real obstacle is to break through a mountain of ice that’s sitting on the edge of the ocean. With the big picture made unclear, so too is the goal.
What works best in this film is the satirizing of the US government and also of Big Oil. The antics of these two power-houses is a sight to behold, with both jumping through hoops to show that they do really, really care about the plight of the stranded whales and will do anything to save them. As long as it doesn’t cost too much. This lampooning would have worked even better if the two camps had joined forces and then gone toe to toe with the Greenpeace Girl, creating a David and Goliath-esque battle that would, fingers crossed, get the lion to lay down with the lamb.
It’s unfortunate that this story is set in the 1980s, as Sarah Palin would have made the perfect spokesperson to make emotionally charged speeches about the progress of the rescue of the poor old whales. Her charm might have actually worked, as long as she remembered not to sit on the fur couch she got made from the skin of a grizzly bear, whose life ended with a bullet from her ivory-embossed gun.