From Wolfgang Petersen’s majestic 360-degree pan of the enormous modern-day luxury cruise ship that will be capsized by a 150-foot wave to his deliberately caliginous closing shot, Poseidon is a nerve-wracking thrill ride. All fears of the film being yet another abysmal Hollywood remake are waved aside as character traits are economically mapped out in the moments before the film’s pivotal New Year’s Eve disaster.
Mark Protosevich’s better-than-average script fits like a hand-in-glove with Petersen’s (Das Boot) masterful detailed direction emphasizing the claustrophobic debris-filled environment that a handful of characters risk, climbing toward the ship’s overturned hull, in hopes of escaping before it sinks. The extraordinary thing about the movie is its deductive ability to capture the selfish and selfless duality of its survivors as a universal quality that applies to anyone in a desperate situation.
Professional gambler Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) wins a significant hand of poker against former New York Mayor Robert Ramsey (well played by Kurt Russell) in the ship’s Main Ballroom. Ramsey’s intractable daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) has just gotten secretly engaged to her boyfriend Christian (Mike Vogel) even as Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), a recently jilted gay architect, contemplates suicide seconds before witnessing the vast approaching tidal wave.
In a matter of seconds the colossal swell hits the ship broadside, and the movie takes on a nightmare quality. Hundreds of lives are instantaneously lost to millions of gallons of water hitting the boat in fearsome scenes that push you back in your chair. Electrical fires spark, beams fall, and an elevator ejects its passenger as chaos reigns and death pervades.
Caught between staying in the comparative safety of the Main Ballroom, where Captain Bradford (Andre Braugher) has ordered survivors to remain, former firefighter Dylan ignores the command and starts climbing away from the crowd. Inspired by Dylan’s decisiveness, nine-year-old Conor (Jimmy Bennett) brings his mother Maggie (Jacinda Barrett) to follow the stalwart leader to imagined safety. Our core group’s journey encompasses the bulk of the story that challenges the audience to empathize with the daring, cowardly or drastic decisions of the diverse group of protagonists.
Integral to the group is Valentin (Freddy Rodriguez—Harsh Times), a young Latino ship’s waiter, and his stowaway immigrant friend Elena (Mia Maestro—The Motorcycle Diaries). Rodriguez plays his immediately likable character without affectation thus adding to the ever so delicate political subtext that screenwriter Protosevich pinpoints with the subplot.
Elena is claustrophobic, and Mia Maestro provides the movie with its most apprehensive adult character for the audience to relate to. You never doubt that Elena is deathly afraid of what it will take to survive, but also of her eventual fate if she does because of her alien status. Valentin and Elena serve a significant function in the film because they sharply snap the story out of the cliche-laden domain of the original 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure. MTW