'Big Miracle': What the Critics Are Saying

"Big Miracle"
"Big Miracle"
 Universal Pictures

Based on the novel Freeing the Whales by Thomas Rose, Universal's Big Miracle hits theaters this Friday -- and the reviews are in.

Big Miracle tells the story of a small town news reporter and a Greenpeace volunteer who are joined by rival world superpowers to save a family of majestic gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle. Directed by Ken Kwapis and written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, stars Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Tim Blake Nelson and Ted Danson.

The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen noted that aside from "the generically nondescript title," the film "is an enjoyable, lively account of an Alaskan animal rescue story that touched the world," making special mention of the chemistry between Barrymore and Krasinski, who play a formerly involved couple (an environmental activist and TV reporter, respectively).

Set in the late 1980s, Rechtshaffen pointed out the nostalgic touches that added a layer to the story, "from the clunky Walkmans to Gordon Gekko references, while those real-life broadcasts by Brokaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and company have been nicely integrated into the dramatic recreations."

The Los Angeles Times' Michael Phillips' wrote that "Big Miracle is surprisingly good, though the 'surprisingly' part betrays certain low-bar expectations going in. So be it." Citing the surprising box office success that was last year's Dolphin Tale, like many reviewers brought up, Phillips noted that Tale offered a specific formula for success ("Imperiled marine animals + true-ish story + workmanlike sincerity + happy ending = a hit") before giving credit to Kwapis for exceeding "those expectations handily while juggling an ambitious number of characters and agendas — and without demonizing any of them."

USA Today's Claudia Puig, who gave it two stars, was less forgiving, saying that the whales were "almost drowned out by the clutter of lackluster human stories injected into an already compelling drama." She also disagreed with Rechtshaffen in terms of the often revisited past romance between Barrymore and Krasinski, writing that "their chemistry is nil" and the subplots were "even less interesting."

San Francisco Chronicle's Mick La Salle, who gave the film a positive review, wrote: "Director Ken Kwapis skates too much on the surface, making obvious choices, but he is rescued in this tendency by Barrymore, Dermot Mulroney (as a National Guard colonel), Tim Blake Nelson (as a wild life expert) and even Krasinski, all of whom have a real instinct for the truth."

Time Magazine's Mary Pols suggests that there "is a slyer side to Big Miracle," writing, "Amidst all the touchy feely whale talk, it offers commentary on life in Alaska, the place where “a high school dropout can make $200,000 working on a rig” and natives collecting stipends from the government for oil rights can blithely charge reporters $20 for a piece of cardboard to put under their feet while doing standup interviews on the ice."

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