The 1990s were a troubling period for Ridley Scott. After starting off on a high note with the iconic melodrama Thelma & Louise (1991), Scott began a trajectory of high-profile flops, beginning with his Christopher Columbus epic 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) and ending with G.I. Jane (1997)—a streak brought to an end by the beginning of the next decade when his Gladiator (2000) won Best Picture. Betwixt these is 1996’s White Squall, a period piece adventure film detailing the tragedy which claimed six lives on the brigantine Albatross when it sank in 1961 during the titular (and, notably rare) storm.
Jeff Bridges headlines as Dr. Christopher Sheldon, who, along with his wife (Caroline Goodall) runs a school aboard the ship meant to instill a sense of “responsibility and fortitude” amongst privileged white youths who have been marked as problematic by their families. During the trip, Sheldon bonds with a main quartet of boys (Scott Wolf, Jeremy Sisto, Eric Michael Cole, Ryan Philippe), each who have their own defining set of issues. The fateful 1961 storm would lead to a trial attempting to revoke the captain’s license, but his crew of young boys come to his defense.
With nearly all of the ‘young’ characters portrayed by cast members who are blatantly too old to play them, the wounded innocence meant to have been captured in Todd Robinson’s script takes on unintentionally homoerotic undertone thanks to Scott’s highly photogenic supporting cast. The script downplays the usually virulent homophobia which historically defined these kinds of homosocial, heteronormative spaces of 1950s and 60s America and plays like an oblivious, boisterous seaborne version of something like Dead Poets Society (1989)—with a touch of A Few Good Men (1992) courtroom dynamics (James Rebhorn makes an appearance) for the final sequences.
Bridges does his best to command the emotional resonance we assume motivated Sheldon, but scant characterization marks him merely as a cipher for brawny, brain-washed ideations of what masculinity’s supposed to look like. Balthazar Getty and Ethan Embry also star as some of the ‘boys’ while John Savage (Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, 1978) stars as the Shakespeare quoting first mate, on hand to dole out the educational part of the ship’s curriculum.
Film Rating: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆