Hollywood has a knack for dumbing things down, and usually that’s one of my biggest complaints about a movie that depicts a true incident. However this script, that involves a cast of dozens, may actually benefit from the screenwriters’ ability to make a complex story accessible to younger viewers.
The plot begins in 1988 when TV reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) spots a trio of gray whales popping their heads above the ice outside of Barrow, Alaska. Desperate to send a news item to the affiliate station in Anchorage, the eager journalist creates an iconic report detailing the plight of the stranded aquatic parents and their calf. The story catches fire and ends up airing on the network, which sparks a pilgrimage of interested parties all pushing toward the remote community.
At the head of the line is Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), who also happens to be Adam’s former flame. With her sights set on saving the whales no matter what the cost or risk, she creates a mood of emotional tension that everyone surrounding her struggles to tolerate, including Malik (John Pingayak), an Iñupiat Eskimo who respects life but also understands the reality of the difficult situation. In the mix too is oil tycoon J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson), a regular target of Rachel’s environmental concerns.
The movie provides ample discussion opportunities on topics ranging from geography to biology. It is a good example of how the media can turn any topic anywhere into a circus as well. And parents will be happy to know content concerns are few: Mild profanities and terms of deity are heard throughout, and young children may be saddened by the whales’ plight.
A tale that appears so contrived as to be unbelievable, Big Miracle bolsters its authenticity by including news footage in the closing credits of many of the real individuals involved. In addition, it scores points for a refreshingly balanced view of the situation. Each person comes to the rescue with a different personal motivation, yet in the end everyone—including the crew of a Soviet Union icebreaker—manages to bring his or her skills and hearts together for a relatively happy ending.