Movie review: ‘Big Miracle’ a whale of a family tale
There’s nothing like a gnarly-cute family of whales in dire distress to pluck a nation’s heartstrings, ignite an international media frenzy, mobilize the National Guard, foster a truce between big oil and Greenpeace and bring about a thaw in the Cold War.
That’s the cumulative effect of “Big Miracle,” a feel-good nature drama inspired by the amazing true story of three California gray whales that became trapped in the ice off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, in 1988 and set off a perfect media storm that led to an incredible rescue effort to save their lives.
Adapted from the book “Saving the Whales” by Thomas Rose, this decidedly family-friendly film feels in some ways like a throwback to the old Walt Disney wildlife films of yore. Under the steady hand of journeyman director Ken Kwapis (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and loads of TV credits), the often funny, honestly emotional tale attracted a remarkable cast of stars.
With Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski (“The Office”) as prickly romantic leads, the impressive ensemble also includes Ted Danson as a blustery oil tycoon, Tulsa native Tim Blake Nelson as an Alaska wildlife ranger, Dermot Mulroney as a hot-shot military pilot, Kristen Bell as an ambitious L.A. television reporter and Kathy Baker as the oil baron’s whale-loving wife.
And amid all that star power, two newcomers deliver standout performances that neatly ground the film in the natural world and ancient Inuit culture. John Pingayak lends an abiding spirituality and earthy wisdom to the role of Malik, Eskimo village elder and old-school whaler, and fresh young Ahmaeogak Sweeney nicely bridges the gap between ancient and modern ways as Malik’s smart, rock ‘n’ roll-loving grandson, Nathan.
The story is set in motion when Krasinki’s small-town TV reporter Adam Carlson happens upon three gray whales trapped in a rapidly freezing ice pack, able to surface only through a small hole in the ice to breathe. With their access to the open sea and their southern migration route blocked, the mother, father and baby whales (later dubbed Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm) are in grave danger of drowning.
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