I was only four years old when this true story about freeing three grey whales trapped under the ice unfolded in Point Barrow, Alaska so the story was new to me from start to finish. Being dressed up as a cuddly family film in the marketing, Big Miracle certainly isn’t that. There are some warm moments throughout the picture, but they are always earned and never forced. Reality supplied a number of surprising twists and turns for the story all on its own and the real life story is certainly full of those, “you couldn’t write it in a movie,” moments. The story doesn’t pull its punches and the film isn’t afraid to get dark at times as the story surely isn’t all sunshine and roses.
Filmed on location in Alaska, director Ken Kwapis and his team did a great job of recreating the setting that was meticulously captured by the plethora of new cameras on the scene at the time. The film’s focus is sharp and they are able to condense an event that took place over a couple weeks, never allowing the story to dull. Sure there was artistic license taken with the story here and there, but I think the film does a great job of showing how people’s opinions and motivations in the rescue weren’t always for the greater good of the whales. Most everyone has an ulterior motive, making the event about them as much as the whales and the film mostly avoids everyone getting all, “Let’s do it for the whales!” A couple characters are reduced to be a little too stereotypical at times, but most of the time the characters seem to be coming from an honest place.
The cast of the film is full of good actors and a lot of likable personalities. The local actors playing the native members of the Point Barrow community all do very good work and I am assuming almost none of them have acting training. The casting of the Hollywood actors was just as sharp as the local scene as there wasn’t a bad egg in the bunch. John Krasinski and Drew Barrymore are the pictures lead and do a fine job even if their forced romance doesn’t have enough behind it to click. Ted Danson is great because he is Ted Danson. Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Riggle, Kristen Bell, Stephen Root, and Dermot Mulroney are all more than good in their small supporting roles and Ahmaogak Sweeney does surprisingly well in his first role of any kind. The cast keeps things light and fun, while still being able to turn up the drama when necessary. While the film doesn’t feature any breakthrough performances it is full of solid work from top to bottom.
Big Miracle might capture a relatively small event in our world’s history but the film is handled well, entertains, and features a number of good performances. The story is one for all ages and shows that even the most humanitarian efforts are full of ulterior motives. Big Miracle could have succumbed to being a sappy heart warmer, but what we get has plenty of other messages to share; even if they aren’t the deepest of messages.
Big Miracle is a B