To see it from the outside you wouldn’t think much of it. Outside of the parking lot full of cars and security, the building looked like many of the other old factory buildings in the area, decrepit, unused and a little foreboding. But this building was different because inside hundreds of people were hard at work recreating the most daring rescue in Coast Guard History. It’s a little funny, considering that this building in historic Quincy, MA once served as a place where hundreds banded together to build ships and today it was being used to tell the story of one of the most daring nautical rescues of all-time.
That sets the stage for a sneak set visit we at Moviepilot were afforded, courtesy the folks at Disney, for January's The Finest Hours. Check out the new trailer:
Fittingly with Veterans Day upon us - and of course an enormous thank you to the brave men and women who have and do serve - we present our on-the-set sit-down with The Finest Hours star Chris Pine and director Craig Gillespie, who give us a glimpse into this incredible true story.
The Real-Life Story
The true story for The Finest Hours is cut from the same cloth as many of the great Disney adventures countless children have grown up on. The film centers on the remarkable true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston, which was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern.
As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) soon realizes it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to set aside their differences and work together to ride out one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast. Meanwhile, as word of the disaster reaches the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring operation to rescue the stranded men. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), set out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little, if any, means of navigation, facing frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds. Their boat was only supposed to hold twelve, they came back with more than thirty men.
Chris Pine as Bernie Webber – The Reluctant Hero
When asked to elaborate on the character of Bernie Webber, Pine sees something genuine about the reluctant hero. “For him, this was his job, this was what he was supposed to do and just like anyone clocking in for a job, his task was going out and saving people, and a real sense that there was no glory in it for him or any need for self-aggrandizement. It was just very simple. So I guess I like the simplicity of the character.” Pine continues, “The temperament of this character seemed altogether different from usually what you encounter in this business which is all about, you know, fame and the glam of it. I don’t know if it’s just men of a different generation, that’s the WWII generation or just immediately after it. There was just a simplicity to the description of it. There was no drama to it. The waves were incredibly huge. What they were going up against was unbelievable in terms of the heroism of these men, but there was this almost metronomic dispatch of facts of events that had taken place; the waves were big, they couldn’t see anything, they lost their compass, it was snowing, nearly dying of hypothermia. It was the skill of the crew, but also we thought much of divine providence having a great deal to do with it.”
Director Craig Gillespie explains what makes the characters so special. “Bernie’s really an unusual underdog. He’s one of those antiheroes, the reluctant guy, the last person you expect to be that fellow. The backdrop is just, it’s huge but it’s secondary to what’s going on. The great part of it is that they’re staying in character for all of this and this whole situation is a catalyst for Bernie, Chris’ character, to grow. Just the enormity of what they’re up against and how that makes them have to step out of their comfort zone.”
Pine goes on to discuss what he sees as the difference in the culture back in 1952 versus now. “I think we just live in a time of the selfie, so there’s a sense that everyone’s uniqueness and importance on this planet should be displayed and reveled in, and that there’s kind of a piece of glory for everyone. And there’s a lot to be said for that because a lot of people do do wonderful things and it has a lot to do with the internet and the proliferation of different forms of media and media outlets, ways to tell your story, from blogs to pictures to whatever. But yeah, when I talk about the simplicity I really do like those stories and, again, this is a movie, this is entertainment, but if there are themes to explore which are valuable for people to witness and think about, I think ours would be to do right and to do good for no other reason than to do it, that it’s just the thing to do which is to be a good man without the need for validation or for encomiums and awards and gifts and all that. It’s just to do good is good.”
The Love Story
The film’s main focus might be the unbelievable story unfolding out at sea, but back on shore is Bernie Webber’s burgeoning love, Miriam, played by Holliday Grainger.
“There’s these two really beautiful, sensitive, wonderful people in this world and they find great love and then the story ends and you can imagine them having a family and disappearing into the night to raise a family and have a good, decent life," says Pine. "Holliday [Grainger] is absolutely wonderful and so beautiful and angelic and I think she’s kind of the light in the dark night of the souls that we go out on in this crazy journey, will return to this really, really warm person that Holliday embodies so well. So it’s a great thing for my character to have that and for the audience to root for that. Again, the story’s very wonderfully kind of simple. There’s no irony in this film. It is what it is.”
Recreating the Spectacle
My first glimpse at the cast of the heroic lifeboat is seeing them pummeled by a wall of water, simulating one of the unimagineable waves that battered the real-life crew as a camera sweeps around the small vessel.
Even though Director Craig Gillespie knows that the characters and story are what’s most important to the story, he still is looking forward to putting audiences inside the lifeboat via IMAX 3D, so that they can understand what it was like for Bernie Webber and his crew. “I like in 3D that you get to sit in these moves, we’re doing these big 50 foot techno moves that come around and get you in the space and you can sort of be there and watch it all and feel a part of it. It’s not as fast and, you know, as cut-y as I would do it if it wasn’t 3D. I feel it’s a better fit for that experience to really feel like you’re in the environment. So that’s why you see these longer 10, 12 second moves we’re doing with this gimbal so you can really be in their world.”
Pine concedes that it’s tough work, but nothing compared to what their real-life counterparts faced back in 1952. “It’s like a big roller coaster ride. It is pretty terrifying when you see all that water coming at you, but it is really fun. Yeah, it gets more difficult when we’re out there and they’re pounding us with the elements and the wind and we’re in a ginormous aluminum box basically that just traps the cold weather, the cold air, so it can get difficult. There was a particularly cold morning the other day and definitely the time where I could feel myself just about breaking and then you see Andy Fitzgerald (One of the original real-life crew that the film is based one) who was actually out there on the boat and you shut up real fast, as we’re in dry suits and I have a heating shirt and the whole bit. It is hard, but it’s a nice, easy way for all of us to understand how difficult it may have been. I mean, it’s really, really cold, and here I am pretending to steer a boat in no current. The stories of what they had to do with the boats flying out of the water, the rudder’s out of the water, they’re going doing these steep, steep pitches not being able to see anything, it’s difficult but it’s no comparison to what actually happened.
Pine sees The Finest Hours as a return to the classic adventure films “In many ways this is like this bizarre, anachronistic film that shouldn’t exist now with all the Marvel characters and everything. This is almost like a studio film from the 50s, you know? There’s no cursing and people are good and right and love conquers all, it’s really very sweet. There’s a sweet earnestness to this film that people will either engage with or the cynicism of the world will win out, but I hope that people appreciate that.
When asked what sets The Finest Hours apart from other nautical films Pine explains, “It’s a pretty powerful thing when there are men on something that is uncontrollable and violent and it’s Mother Nature really at its most chaotic. So there’s great inherent drama in that, in the unknown, what’s underneath the water. I would say because this is a period film set in a time of the greatest generation, or however it’s classified, perhaps it is that, it’s a simple story about good men doing great things and it does have an earnest - I don’t like the word earnest, but I don’t see any other descriptive that’s kind of as apropos, it’s just what you see is what you get. What was [Robert] Redford’s film called again? All Is Lost! It is, in many ways, man against the sea, man against the sea, man against the elements, can he survive? It’s the triumph of the human spirit and all that kind of stuff. And also the really violent beauty of the ocean, it is that. There is something studio film-ish about it, but of a time passed that I think we all really enjoy. I mean, if you just look at the collection of faces in this film it’s just great, just great. Good mugs [laughs], good like party mugs. Not mine, but I mean …
And with that, Pine gives us a nod and heads back to his tiny lifeboat to be pummeled a few more times for what is surely going to be a helluva ride come January 29th of next year.
Be sure to stay tuned in the coming months, for more interviews from the set of The Finest Hours. We’ll be speaking with the rest of Pine’s brave crew including Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner and John Magaro.