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'Big Miracle' review

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Released on Friday, Feb 10 2012

Big Miracle, Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore does a Free Willy in this Disney-style yarn based on actual events. Her tendency towards over-earnestness makes her an easy fit for the role of Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer who, in 1988, hurries to secure aid for three whales - that's Fred, Wilma and baby Bam-Bam - who are trapped and slowly suffocating behind a wall of ice in the Alaskan depths.

However, the real star of the show is John Krasinski (who came to prominence in the US version of The Office) as Adam, an empathetic newshound and Rachel's ex-boyfriend who does all the grunt work, handles backstage diplomacy and somehow manages not to strangle her.

Inevitably, the crisis brings Rachel and Adam back into close proximity and there is a gradual thawing of relations, but the romance is overtaken by an increasingly frantic rescue mission. What's more interesting is the snowball effect caused by the media with the story making national headlines and drawing help from unlikely quarters, including the Soviet Union.

Apparently, Reagan's advisors thought getting the Reds on board "could really help with the Glasnost thing", but despite such grand proclamations the team effort only really goes to show how far some people will bend for a bit of good PR. Ted Danson is a typically greasy oil baron who supplies hardware in hopes of securing local drilling rights, and even a couple of de-icer salesmen aim to cash in as well.

Kristen Bell plays another self-serving type, an ambitious reporter who also catches Adam's eye while Rachel looks on with angst. Though Rachel is ostensibly the driving force of the film, Adam faces the more crucial dilemmas, having to make choices over love and work as well as smoothing ruffled feathers when Rachel gets mouthy with the local Inuit, the government and the US Army.

Initially, the clash of ideals between Rachel and the Inuit (who hunt whale as a matter of survival) creates an interesting tension, but this is too quickly glossed over by director Ken Kwapis. Questions are also left hanging about the apparently complicated history between Rachel and Adam, and they rarely have a moment alone together for deeper exploration.

At times Adam seems indifferent to Rachel and though they must work together, Kwapis (who directed Barrymore in He's Just Not That Into You and Krasinski in The Office) doesn't use the friction to reveal anything about the relationship. More surprisingly, he doesn't invest any time in finding out who Rachel is behind all the bravado so it's difficult to warm to her, in spite of her cause.

Of course, the circumstances surrounding this rescue effort are extraordinary and so many ploys by Rachel et al to grab the world's attention should make for an equally riveting film, but Kwapis forgets that it's people who make the news and not whales, really. If only he had spent a little more time plumbing their depths as well as the Arctic sea, he might have done Greenpeace a service.


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