Lakeboat is a 2000 film starring Charles Durning, Peter Falk, and Denis Leary, among others in an ensemble cast. Based on a play by David Mamet, Lakeboat tells the story of a college student, Dale Katzman (played by Tony Mamet, the playwright's son), working as a crew member on a Great Lakes freighter. The film takes place over the course of one trip, from Michigan to Chicago, and follows the interactions between the various crew members as they go about their daily business.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between Dale and both the older, wiser crew members and his fellow youths. Dale is bright and eager, but also inexperienced and somewhat naive. Throughout the journey, he seeks the advice and guidance of the more seasoned crew members, who are happy to impart their wisdom but also wary of the dangers of life on the water.
Chief among these older mentors is Joe Pitko, played by Charles Durning. Joe is a gruff old sailor who has seen it all and then some. He takes Dale under his wing, offering him advice and support whether he wants it or not. Durning brings a real gruff charm to the role, and it's clear that he's having a ball playing the crusty old sailor.
Other notable crew members include Denis Leary as the wise-cracking First Mate, Danny, and Peter Falk as the mysterious, aloof Captain. The interplay between the crew members is a major factor in what makes the film work - each character is unique and interesting in their own way, and the performances are across-the-board strong.
Throughout the course of the journey, we see the crew members dealing with their own personal struggles - marital troubles, alcoholism, boredom - and the film doesn't shy away from showing how tough life on the water can be. The ship is a world unto itself, with its own rules and hierarchies, and Lakeboat does a good job of exploring that world without ever feeling too claustrophobic.
At its core, Lakeboat is a character-driven film. There's not much in the way of plot - it's really just a series of vignettes about life on the ship - but that's not a weakness. The film is about the journey, both literal and metaphorical, and the bond that can form between people in close quarters for an extended period of time. Mamet's dialogue is sharp and witty, and the cast delivers it with aplomb.
The film's cinematography is worth mentioning as well. Shot on location on an actual freighter, Lakeboat has a gritty, lived-in feel that adds to the realism of the story. Director Joe Mantegna (himself a frequent collaborator with Mamet) uses tight close-ups and clever camera angles to give the sense that we're eavesdropping on the conversations between the crew members.
Overall, Lakeboat is a solid film with a lot of heart. It's not a flashy or showy movie, but it doesn't need to be - the quality of the performances and the strength of the writing speak for themselves. The film is a testament to the power of simple stories well-told, and it's well worth seeking out for fans of character-driven drama.
Lakeboat is a 2001 drama. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.0 and a MetaScore of 59.