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Big Miracle is a dramatization of the true story of the 1988 operation to free a family of three gray whales trapped in the ice at Point Barrow, Alaska.
What makes this film more than a bland feel good story is that the motives for this act of mercy are fully explored such as an oil company executive and the Ronald Reagan administration take part at least in part provide good publicity to counter their media images as environmental villains. On the other hand, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) is a true blue environmental idealist who has her own problems understanding nearby the Inupiat community who are traditional subsistence whalers who see their way of life threatened by this media event, but feel they have no choice but to play along lest they lose more of their rights from a possible public backlash.
- Billing Displacement: Drew Barrymore is billed first but John Krasinski plays the main character.
- Cutting the Knot: Rachel cuts through the politics with naked threats and bullying.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Rachel seems to get nicer throughout to the film, from a straw Granola Girl earlier on to a more likeable and less reckless character by the end.
- The Eighties: It's set one month before the 1988 election, with the events either helping or hurting leaving President Reagan's environmental record. Despite this, the characters' appearances were all updated to the 2010's, most notably the National Guard colonel and the two Minnesotan brother-in-law businessmen.
- Enemy Mine: Greenpeace and Big Oil, working together to save the whales.
- Eskimo Land: One of the most realistic depictions with the Inupiat struggling to cope with a relatively normal situation blown up into a media circus. In that situation, they feel they have to massage their response to keep the world public from turning on them.
- Grey and Gray Morality: All over the place, and almost everyone has a different perspective.
- Granola Girl: Rachel
- Honest John's Dealership: The young Inupiat boy takes advantage of the situation through a number of quick sales to unprepared tourists ($20 for a piece of cardboard to insulate their feet from the ice, for example). Adam even calls him Gordon Gekko at one point.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- J.W. Though he's in it for the publicity, he respects Rachel's determination to help the whales get to safety and thinks about both sides of the spectrum.
- Rachel: Though she's dedicated to saving the whales and probably the only one involved in the affair who doesn't (personally) have an ulterior motive, she's also extremely self-righteous, tactless, and thinks nothing about bullying, threatening people and running smear campaigns to get the whales out.
- Magical Native American: Subverted in that the Elder Inupiat character understands not only the ways of nature, but the intense political nightmare the community would face if they harvested the whales with all the media watching.
- Ramming Always Works: The Soviet icebreaker crew risks damaging the ship by ramming the ice wall with three tries of increasing force.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Almost everyone involved is doing this extraordinary act of kindness for their own self-interested agendas, at least at first.