The title isn't an exaggeration. It was something of a "Big Miracle," the way the plight of a family of gray whales, stranded under the Alaska ice, captivated the country and forced oil men and environmentalists, natives and Cold War foes to team up back in the waning days of the Reagan administration.
And it's no small miracle that the story of that nearly forgotten moment makes for a delightful family movie. Political cynicism, media opportunism, dogmatic native "tradition," corporate greed and environmentalist stubbornness are each, in turn, dashed against this sunny Ken ("License to Wed") Kwapis confection.
John Krasinski plays the very definition of small-time TV reporter, Adam, whose "Adam Around Alaska" stories aren't the ticket to the big time he wants. Then he stumbles across three whales parents and a baby clinging to an air hole in the ice outside Barrow, Alaska. They're miles from open ocean, too far to hold their breath. They won't last more than a day or two, the state wildlife biologist (Tim Blake Nelson) and Inupiat tribal elder (John Pingayak) tell him. Adam's "tragedy unfolding here in Barrow" story gets picked up by the network, because, as one unnamed wag cracks, "Brokaw's a sucker for whale stories."