“Where we go one, we go all”: ‘White Squall’ Review
Continuing our look at sports movies during the month of March, this week we’re going to shine a light on a wonderful, underrated gem from the director of Alien and Blade Runner. White Squall, which followed up Scott’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise, is an exciting and dramatically potent nautical adventure with an utterly solid Jeff Bridges at the helm.
Similar to Green Street Hooligans in the way that it’s a different type of sports film, White Squall tells the true story of a school trip that is commandeered by Christopher Sheldon aka Skipper. The trip, composed entirely of boys aboard the Albatross, leads the boys to change who they are and learn the hard lessons imposed upon them by Skipper.
As Skipper, Bridges is perfectly cast as the captain of a ship that is all about discipline and teamwork. While not all the guys get their screen time, Scott makes the wise decision to experience the thrill of nautical life through the eyes of wide-eyed Chuck Gieg (Scott Wolf, the heart of the film) and his discovery of the rest of the team.
While it doesn’t necessarily adhere to the classic sports movie formula, there are a lot of sport-related themes in Scott’s tense film. Bridges as Skipper is the mentor/coach/father figure that transforms the boys into men of discipline and teaches them the value of teamwork and brotherhood. In many ways, it’s a subversion of the genre by not having a strict formula tow which emulates from.
While Scott is known for his technically masterful entries into the science fiction and historical epic genres, White Squall is a bit of an odd, yet fascinating, entry into his filmography. Just like all Scott films, White Squall features an impressive amount of practical effects (a real life ship was used to depict the Albatross) and technical precision that Scott is known for. During one of the film’s major action sequences, a storm violently attacks the boat, and Scott’s action experience is on full display; it’s a meticulously crafted sequence that is not only visually stunning but also anchored by powerful character moments.
Aside from Bridges, in prime form, as Skipper and Scott Wolf lending some all-American heart to the cast, Scott has given the film an excellent supporting cast to surround its leads with. A very young Ryan Phillippe (playing the polar opposite of his Cruel Intentions character), Balthazar Getty, Caroline Goodall and John Savage all deliver wonderful work in this underseen Scott film from the early 90s.
One of the best assets of the film, aside from its cast and excellently captured Scott scope, is the rousing score. Using lots of classic synthesizers and evoking Vangelis, Jeff Rona’s (who’s a protégé of the great Hans Zimmer) score is perfect in capturing the sense of adventure that Scott is going for with White Squall.
It might not rank as high as the major Scott masterpieces like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, or his Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut but White Squall is an underseen gem that delivers a thrilling high seas adventure in spades. With a great lead performance and gorgeous location photography (The Duelists’ Hugh Johnson), White Squall deserves to be seen by fans of the acclaimed director.