I recently attended a screening for Disney’s upcoming film, The Finest Hours!
The true story that The Finest Hours is based on is astonishing. What these four Coast Guard Officers accomplished is extraordinary, to say the very least.
The generosity and strength of the human spirit shines throughout this film. It’s wonderful.
The Finest Hours stars Chris Pine (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond, Wonder Woman), Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Interstellar), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias, Bonnie & Clyde, Cinderella), Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand, Pandorum, Warcraft), and Eric Bana (Hulk, Star Trek).
The Finest Hours was directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, United States of Tara, Fright Night) with the screenplay written by Scott Silver (The Fighter, 8 Mile), Paul Tamasy (The Fighter), and Eric Johnson (The Fighter), based on the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias.
The film takes place in the early 1950s on and off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts and tells the amazing true story of four Coast Guard officers, including Bernie Webber (Pine) and Richard Livesey (Foster), who selflessly embark on a terrifying mission into a massive nor’easter storm, in order to try and save a crew of over thirty men.
These men are trapped on their ship, the SS Pendleton which is a 500-foot oil tanker that has been, literally, split in half by the fierce storm and these four officers of the U.S. Coast Guard are their only hope for survival.
The film opens on a sweet love story between kind Coast Guard Officer, Bernie and confident telephone operator, Miriam (Grainger).
Then, suddenly, we are transported to the SS Pendleton where Ray Sybert (Affleck) and the rest of the crew are in the throes of this vicious storm.
Both Bernie and Ray are presented to us as unlikely heroes, or “underdogs,” who are suddenly thrown into positions of leadership.
Bernie and Ray’s stories continue to parallel each other throughout the film as they are both forced to embrace their strength and rise to the occasion.
It is great storytelling and a beautiful way to communicate this incredible journey to audiences. We get to know and genuinely care for both Bernie and Ray which makes for a thrilling and emotional film.
Furthermore, The Finest Hours is aesthetically stunning. Gillespie put a significant amount of thought into utilizing the film’s visuals to facilitate this amazing story.
And I felt that all of the performances were excellent. However, specifically, Pine and Affleck really blew my mind– They did a beautiful job creating very honest, multi-dimensional characters who audiences are rooting for!
There is so much sadness and unrest in the world – It’s incredibly refreshing and heartwarming to see a story of love and selflessness being told by so many passionate people. We need more stories like this one! I’m so happy that this film was made.
The cast and crew of The Finest Hours were all so personally invested in the story and message of their film. Everyone was so clearly dedicated to making the best film possible and honoring those who lived this experience on February 18, 1952.
This film will definitely take you on an emotional and uplifting journey! It’s great!
Interview with director, Craig Gillespie:
I was also invited to sit down with director Craig Gillespie for a roundtable interview.
Gillespie was so much fun to get to talk with! He’s probably one of the nicest people ever and was so excited and passionate about this film.
Question: So I’ve been told that films with water are something that, as a director, you should stay away from.
Craig Gillespie: I would agree with that.
Question: So what happened? Why do this to yourself?
Craig Gillespie: I actually have several friends who just watched the film and they were like, “What possessed you to want to do that?! When you read the script, what were you thinking?!”
It’s so rare to find a script that you respond to. And the script that I read, Scott Silver had just done a pass on – And he’d just written The Fighter and he wrote this script that was so riveting and so restrained in that Boston restrained, stoic way. And he just captured this world so beautifully and I could relate to it.
So, you kind of put the pain aside and you start with the material. So I signed on and I went in expecting that it would be miserable.
Question: So you said that you could relate to the film?
Craig Gillespie: Well I’m Australian and I feel like [Australians] tend to be a little bit more restrained that way in terms of expressing their emotions. And, also, I grew up on the water—My whole life. So I’ve surfed and sailed my whole life and to find something that I could translate to film that is close to my heart was exciting.
Question: This film has a great cast— How did that impact your decision to take on this project?
Craig Gillespie: When I came on, Chris Pine was on board. And the interesting thing, for me as a filmmaker and what is interesting about Scott Silver’s writing, is that even though there is a lot of action, I really wanted it to be a character piece. And really delve into what’s interesting about these men and why they did it and who they were.
So with Chris’ character, it was really exciting for me to see him delve into Bernie’s personality. He listening to tracks, he really tried to get the accent, he created the mannerisms and we talked about this idea of the underdog and the unlikely hero and how to portray that and build that.
We even referenced some old films and really thoroughly went through that and did some rewrites with him and Scott on that.
And in Casey’s case too, his character is basically the anti-hero. He doesn’t want to be that guy, he hates authority. And we gave Casey as many tools as we could to make his character more complex and to see that journey happening.
And the two of them, to me, I couldn’t be prouder of what they created. They created characters that are interesting and complex in the midst of all this chaos. And that was something that I was excited about.
Question: The beginning of the film starts very small, as a character piece, before any conflict begins—I thought that was quite audacious because it’s very quiet.
Craig Gillespie: It really is. What I’m kind of proud of about the opening is that it is literally how [Bernie (Pine) and Miriam (Grainger)] met. You know, it was this blind date… And they met after having spoken for months on the phone.
And Scott did a beautiful job of recreating that moment. And it’s basically the first fourteen minutes of the film until we get into the exterior storm. And it is quite a bit of time. But, on the flip side, it’s all the real estate we have to create these characters and get you invested in them. So I felt that was a fair trade and I wanted to take our time.
The other interesting dynamic in this is that once that first fourteen minutes is up, [Bernie and Miriam] never see each other again for the film. So how do we create that connection between them that is going to carry them through the whole movie? And so we really felt that we had to put that time in.
Question: Can you tell us about the rhythm, pacing, and editing of the film between the two stories– on land and in the sea?
Craig Gillespie: It’s interesting because we did change the structure of the film, editorially, quite a bit… There was more time on land and then you went to the Pendleton. And the nice thing with having the stories separate is that you have that choice editorially of how you structure—It gives you more freedom between the three stories… And we found that going back and forth kept the tension up. To me, there was just this ticking bomb that the guys at the Coast Guard station had no idea what was coming down the pipe at them. And they are in this very cozy environment and there is this [other story happening that] has nothing to do with them. But the audience knows it’s going to be coming to them. And it gives you a feeling of dread for them and more focus on all of the nuances of what’s going on that day.
Question: Can you tell us about any obstacles that you faced creating the time period and making it accurate?
Craig Gillespie: Well Javier Aguirresarobe is our Cinematographer and I absolutely love his work. You always see with period pieces—you know, are you going to go classic or more contemporary?
And I just felt that this was such a restrained and honest story, I thought it was better to stay classic with it.
Except for when you get into the massive affects. And in that world, it’s a whole 3D story of longer shots, always moving, wrapping around big scenes; and I felt that would give it enough of a contemporary feel and for the characters, let’s keep them in that classic mode and do it in this old fashioned way. – Where you can let the characters sit there and do their performances and not try and contemporize it or make it flashy and let the performances do the work.
Question: There is no human antagonist in the film. As a filmmaker, how do you make the water antagonistic?
Craig Gillespie: Nature is, so many times, underestimated. And you can see the tragedies that happen from that with hurricanes and cyclones and just the power of it. And in some ways, I really wanted to try and capture that. Like when they were going across the bar, we are not showing nature—I loved the idea that it was a white-out and they could hear it and how foreboding that is and the aggression of it.
And growing up in Sydney, when there was a huge swell, you could hear it a mile and a half from the coast. And that was something that I really wanted to capture in the film – That it almost creates a personality for it.
[And as the four Coast Guard Officers] are about to step into [the storm, we see] that there’s gotta be a respect for [nature.] They know what they are going into; they know that they might die.
The balance of the nature, having been on the ocean I feel that once you have a respect for it, there is a rhythm to it.
The way Casey [Affleck’s character, Ray] can ride that Pendleton and know that between the waves he can reverse it and use that energy to help them– So there is a dance going on throughout.
Question: In addition to the storm, I felt that the weather in general was its own character. For example, the snow in the beginning felt very romantic and then we move into the storm. Can you tell us about creating that?
Craig Gillespie: Thanks for that! It was so mapped out throughout the whole story. From the snow starting and then you get into the white-out and then, as they are going across the bar, it was very aggressive with the white-out and the horizontal rain and then you get to the big wave sequence. And by the time they get to the rescue, the storm has calmed down and it’s vertical rain. In a way, it’s relenting a little bit and its letting us stay with the characters and not be as distracted by the weather and become more of a character piece and then when they start heading home, it’s snowing again.
Every day it was like, “Okay, what are we doing today? Is it horizontal rain, vertical rain, snow?”
One way or another, they were getting wet.
Question: Were you conscious of visual effects while filming?
Craig Gillespie: We shot them in the tank. And, in looking at Life of Pie for instance, we look at, how do we get that sense of being in the water? And the camera needs to almost be independent from the boat. So most of what we shot was on a fifty techno arm that was out there. And they’re on a wave machine, on the water. So they’re rocking around in this random way – Random to a point.
It’s funny, I was behind my Focus Puller at one point and Chris [Pine] has got this amazing performance that he’s doing and all of a sudden the Focus Puller is like – (*Drops arms and head in frustration.*)
And I’m like, “What are you doing?!”
And he said, “I lost it!”
And this was three weeks in and I hadn’t realized that he’d been white-knuckling it because, the way the boat rocked, he’d get in sync with it and just be doing this [*Rocks hands back and forth as if holding a camera*] until it got thrown out of focus.
They were getting pummeled. There was rain coming down from sixty-five feet up, wave machines going, the boat rocking around– And we are there with a steady-cam right in their face but even with the steady-cam, because of the rocking boat, you couldn’t stay still with it. So there was always this sense of movement to it to remind you of where you were.
Question: Was the scope of this film a lot to consider when taking on the project?
Craig Gillespie: It’s funny, I’ve been doing commercials for 20 years, so, in the commercial world, you get to play with all of the toys. – Not to this scale but I felt like it had prepped me in a way that I wanted to let loose on that and work with the bigger toys as it were.
We had an amazing production designer with Michael Corenblith.
We shot in a ship hanger, basically, where one end was exposed – And he built five sets through this ship hanger.
[For example], the engine room is sixty-five feet tall, five stories, and all steel because it had to hold ten feet of water in it and rock.
Question: The line in the film, which is also an overarching theme that, “We all live or we all die,” seems very appropriate at such a divisive time in our country. Can you speak about that?
Craig Gillespie: I think it’s nice to have a message about unity and hope and basically taking the highroad– And choosing to be active without feeling that they need to get rewarded in some way. And that was something that these guys, and part of that generation, believed– Where it was just what you did—It wasn’t for the accolades, it wasn’t for the social media.
Literally, [Coast Guard Officer] Andy Fitzgerald’s wife said that she didn’t find out until four years after they were married that he’d done this.
Question: What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
Craig Gillespie: I hope that they will be inspired just to do good deeds in life; just to be part of a community and think of others first.
The Finest Hours will be released in theaters on January 29th!
Be sure to check out my interviews with Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Casey Affleck, and Holliday Grainger which will be posted throughout the week! They’re a lot of fun!