Speaking with Director Craig Gillespie and Producer Jim Whitaker
This week from director Craig Gillespie and Walt Disney Pictures comes the true and inspirational story of men who comes together during THE FINEST HOURS.
In 1952, young Boatswains Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is stationed off of Cape Cod. Keeping much to himself because of a prior rescue, Bernie is a stickler for the rules. Meeting a feisty and forward Miriam (Holliday Grainer), Webber is proposed to and now feels he needs the permission of his superior Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). Wanting to ask, he is interrupted when a storm slams the seas.
On the SS Pendleton, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is trying to keep his ship together. As one wave hits the boat, it becomes clear that if they are to survive, the screw must come together to keep the ship afloat until help arrives. When the calls comes in, Webber along with Seaman Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Engineman Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Seaman Wallace Quirey (John Ortiz) get in their small twelve-man boat and head out – but first they must get through the monster waves at the mouth of the port.
Back on the drifting Pendleton, Sybert is dealing with a crew that wants to leave the ship. It is with the help of Frank Fauteux (Graham McTavish) that they begin to rig the boat to head to short where rescuers might have a better chance to reach them. The waves show no mercy as the snow is blinding as Webber keeps his resolve to move forward and find the men of the Pendleton.
It is the three men on a surfboat and the crew of the Pendleton that show us the meaning of bravery!
Pine as Webber has taken on a role I didn’t expect. Instead of his flashy Captain Kirk smile and witticisms, Pine gives us a character that is introspective, unsure at times but knows that without someone going into the angry ocean, the lives of the men on the Pendleton would be lost. I enjoyed his portrayal of Webber and trusted in what he was doing. I can’t imagine doing any of that in the first place, let alone in 1952 when boats didn’t have the same safety measures or equipment they do today.
Affleck as Sybert is equally as introspective in this role. He knows what he knows but won’t force anyone to take his word. Sybert is very McGyver in a situation I’m sure was unlike none that had been seen before. I have to say I was pretty impressed with this characters concern when clearly there were those who didn’t have everyone’s best interests at heart. Affleck is a cool customer!
Foster as Livesey has a bone to pick with Pine’s character over an accident. Never truly resolving the issue, it makes the rescue boat a little more tense. The struggle to survive is made more difficult by Livesey’s anger. Gallner as Fitzgerald is a frightened kid to say the very least yet he keeps it together following the lead of Webber. Ortiz as Quirey jumped into the fray without a second thought which dropped my jaw a bit but well done!
Bana as Cluff begins his time at the Cape constantly being questioned, second guessed and has Miriam to deal with. McTavish as Fauteux definitely is a guy I’d want on my side when things go as bad as they did for the Pendleton.
Grainier as Miriam is feisty, flashy and a temper that won’t be tamed when it comes to learning of the danger Webber is facing. The only question I had is why did she run out of the Cape station without her coat? I was happy to learn that I wasn’t the only person in the screening who had that question.
Other cast include: Josh Stewart as Tchuda Southerland, Rachel Brosnahan as Bea Hansen, Michael Raymond-James as Seaman Brown, John Magaro as Seaman Ervin Maske, Matthew Maher as Carl Nickerson, Benjamin Koldyke as Sam, Beau Knapp as Mel Gouthro and Abraham Benrubi as Tiny Meyers.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give THE FINEST HOURS three and a half tubs of popcorn out of five. THE FINEST HOURS is based on the book by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue.
I had the opportunity to speak with Director Craig Gillespie as well as Producer Jim Whitaker about THE FINEST HOURS, casting, special effects and the message they want to bring to audiences.
Hello gentlemen! I saw the film and I am a sucker for anything ocean but if you throw in disaster it’s even better along with it being a true story. What made you decide to take on this epic story?
Jim: My wife read the book and thought it would make an amazing film. It’s an incredible story and the more you read it the more you think ‘how did this happen?’ and it rolled right out. We were trying to find stories that would make a great movie and this was definitely one. It happened very quickly because we loved it so we brought it right to Disney. They said it would be a great film for them as well. It is exciting and very castable and intense. There are two parts to it really and you are right that it’s an epic film and Craig made it epic. It became more and more epic.
Craig: I was waiting for someone to tell me to stop!
Jim: There is this incredible humanity underneath it as well. You get the epic moments but also moments of humility and grace and emotions. It’s that balance is what makes for a great movie experience.
It is interesting to me that you chose Chris Pine because I didn’t see him as a quiet character. He doesn’t say much in the film but instead he knows the right thing to do so he does it.
Craig: It’s the classic casting against type.
But you also did it with Casey Affleck, again an introspective character and with alarms going off all around him he takes a deep breath and does what needs to be done so they can survive. They are both the calm in the middle of this storm.
Craig: They have similar acts but in different places. Scott Silva created such depths in these characters and such restrain in them also add to the epic scale of it all. I grew up in Sydney so I understand those big waves and the drama of it.
Why these two actors and how do you see them in these roles?
Craig: Chris was already attached to the film and I loved the idea and the opportunity of working with him and Casey. When you go to the classic underdog hero films and the common thread between these two characters not believing in themselves are that they go through this journey and find the courage within themselves to stand up. This affects change in everyone else. There is a sincerity about these characters with strong moral compasses but they just have a hard time believing in themselves. There were these traits and how to build these moments between these two actors.
I love old movies and in this film you brought out that sense of nostalgia with the authenticity of their clothing, the look all the way down to the boat.
Craig: There is this classic restraint but with that era of people who just knew how to get the job done. Even in the way we shot it everything was done in this classic way.
The ocean waves were huge! How did you do that? These poor guys are never dry.
Jim: Yes, there were thousands and thousands of gallons of water. They were constantly soaked.
Craig: There was no way around that. This shoot was really tough. We had this massive Navy shipping yard with a huge hanger that they use to build ships in with the end facing the ocean. They built five massive sets and the engine room that you see Casey at in the opening scene is a set and it’s on a gimbals of steel and it has to rock. This is the most weight they had to do for a set because of the flooding that happens. The top three floors of the tanker are also on a gimbals and it’s about twenty feet long. The side of the tanker they climb down is built and they actually climb down a ladder into water. They were dealing with very technical and hazardous conditions. It was a 110 foot pool with wave machines while they were being pelted with rain!
Miriam is quite a little spicy character. Grainier is a little firecracker.
Jim: That’s who Miriam was. She was a very modern woman of that time. All the details of that night are actually true. She did ask Webber to marry her and that was unheard of at the time. We thought that that was great about her character. We were looking for a fit with Chris and we needed someone to challenge him.
Chris’ accent was so well done.
Jim: The thing about his accent was that there was an interview that Bernie did many, many years ago where he talked about the event. He is speaking about what happened very quietly and some what matter-of-factly. Chris listened to Bernie and listened to it for hours upon days. When you hear Chris you are literally hearing Bernie speak. In that same gentle and quiet restrain type of way.
Through it all you forget it was ‘actor’ Chris Pine because of the different characteristics we might be use to. He became Bernie.
Craig: Chris did an amazing job dedicating himself to playing Bernie with the accent and the mannerisms. I think that rippled through the cast and upped everybody’s game. They wanted to remain true to their characters and portraying them honorably.
When Chris asks for others to go with him on the rescue, the people who go are a surprise, especially Ben Foster’s character because he is holding some rage against Bernie.
Craig: Yes, absolutely. Ben’s performance were these looks and moments and methodically done. His body language shows so much as the tension builds between them.
I think the military and Coast Guard families are going to really enjoy this film, especially in the recreating of the era in this true story of courage.
Craig: Yes, this is an American spirit film back in an era of a can-do kind of attitude. That is what makes this film even more amazing.
What would you like our readers to take away from seeing THE FINEST HOURS?
Craig: For me, hopefully honoring that spirit and those in the service. This highlights the innate goodness of those in service.
Jim: I love that the movie is about quiet humility and selflessness and ultimately the desire to serve no matter what the circumstances. This is about real heroes who go into places that others run from purely to help save people. We are grateful to make a film that honors that part of the military that serves our country.
We are grateful as well to those who serve in the different branches of our military. This truly is a film about overcoming fears and adversity but it is also about being brave in such a way that it inspires us all.
THE FINEST HOURS is a stunning story in the epic genre of filmmaking. The cast brings it all together in this story of courage in the middle of an angry ocean and the bravery to do what is necessary.
In the end – there are thirty-two survivors and only room for twelve!