With John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Ted Danson, Tim Blake Nelson, Kristen Bell. Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler. Directed by Ken Kwapis. Rated PG (for language). 107 minutes.
BIG MIRACLE is the sort of feel-good, family-friendly film that critics are supposed to hate. Why, then, does it seem to work so well? Credit screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, who figured out how to tell a story that involves everything from local and national news media, the Reagan White House, Alaskan seal hunters, Big Oil, and Greenpeace to some guys from Minnesota who have invented an ice melter, without letting any of it spin out of control.
Based on a true story, “Big Miracle” begins with the discovery by local TV news reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) that three whales are trapped in the ice in a remote northern Alaska town. If the whales can’t make it out to open water, they will die. When the story gets picked up by the networks, it becomes a media circus. Is this Adam’s chance to move into the big leagues, or will he be drowned out by the network reporters like Jill Jerard (Kristen Bell) who are rushing to the remote location.
Meanwhile, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), a Greenpeace activist, wants to protect the whales from both the native hunters and the oil companies. She’s also Adam’s ex-girlfriend. With so many people working at cross-purposes, the film actually has a timely message about finding common ground and ways to cooperate. J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson) has just won oil drilling rights that were bitterly opposed by Greenpeace. He also has the ship that may be able to break through the ice to get to the whales. The natives resent outsiders telling them what to do, but realize that slaughtering the trapped whales before a national TV audience won’t help their cause.
One of the most unexpected subplots involves a military officer (Dermot Mulroney) – tasked with towing McGraw’s ice cutter to the site – having to fend off calls from a Reagan aide (Vinessa Shaw) who is trying to arrange for a phone call between the rescuers and the President. Again, they seem to be working from different agendas until they finally meet and discover they’re on the same side.
There is much humor mixed in with the adventure, and the resolution of the story continues the theme of how the unexpected cooperation between rivals can pay dividends. At a time when the country is so divided, there’s something heartening about a story where people learn that an opponent in one area need not be an opponent for all purposes. Director Ken Kwapis, who has had better luck on the small screen than the big one, manages to juggle these various stories with ease, aided by a strong cast that includes those already mentioned plus Kathy Baker, Rob Riggle, James LeGros, Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen Root, and John Michael Higgins. There is true ensemble work here.
“Big Miracle” turns out to be a bit of a miracle itself, with its complicated story told with wit, passion, and excitement. It’s a family film that ought to please all ages.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.