The Finest Hours, rescue on the high seas
Finest Hours **
A straight-up <em>Boys’ Own</em> adventure yarn, set sincerely and squarely in early ’50s New England but gussied up with plenty of 21st-century StormWave CGI. A monster winter storm causes not one but two oil tankers to split in half off the coast, and so many people are busy attending to one of them that the fate of the other is left in the hands of just four brave (but also dutiful) souls on a glorified Coast Guard motorboat. To complicate matters, the captain (<a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=chris+pine">Chris Pine</a>, hunched and hesitant for a change) has a botched rescue on his conscience, and oh, he just got engaged. Meanwhile, a grimy engineer (<a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=casey+affleck">Casey Affleck</a>, who seems to have been cut according to some olde-timey pattern) has to convince the remaining crew that he can keep half a ship afloat with pure American know-how and gumption. Plus maybe a little luck. With Holliday Grainger. Craig Gillespie directs.
The Finest Hours’ director Craig Gillespie and one of its producers, James Whitaker, were in town recently for the Coronado Island Film Festival and were kind enough to sit down for a chat about their old-fashioned tale of historic and heroic rescue.
Matthew Lickona: What was the elevator pitch to Disney for the film?
James Whitaker: It’s an incredible true story about four underdog guys who get called up for a suicide mission where they have a chance to save — through blind faith — 33 people stuck on the back half of an oil tanker. That’s pretty good, but the second part is that it’s all true. If you’re in my position, you’re lucky to be able to read a story and say, “It already rolls out like a movie story.” But it’s amazing when you can say that, and it’s also all true. Disney was very quick to say, “We want to get into this.” They truly believe that it represents the ideals of a Disney movie, even as it pushes the boundaries of a Disney movie in some respects. I don’t know that they’ve done a true story with this level of intensity. After that, getting Craig was the real turning point for getting it made.
ML: Craig, what attracted you to the project?
Craig Gillespie: I had just finished Million Dollar Arm, which was a great experience, and the script turned up in an email with no setup at all. Just the logline, “The true story of a sea rescue in the 1950s.” Scott Silver had written the draft that I read — he’d done The Fighter — and there was just this restraint to it, even as the characters were so clearly defined. So much was left unsaid, with people not expressing themselves emotionally. So many times in these films, everything is spelled out. Here, I could feel the tone on the page. Also, the way he created the world he was writing about was so visual. I was hooked. I called my agent the next morning and said, “I’ve got to do it.”
The Finest Hours
ML: And what about getting Chris Pine?
JW: He was already attached.
CG: Scott and I sat with Chris and really worked on his character. It goes back to that great generation, people doing the right thing, not for accolades or self-promotion, just doing the right thing for the community. Bernie [Pine’s character] had this strong moral compass; he was very honest, but he doesn’t really believe in himself. It’s a common theme in these heroic films. I went back to On the Waterfront, and Chris said, “Please don’t talk to an actor about On the Waterfront,” and I said, “Fine.” But just as a character, it was stuff to mine from.
ML: He had a pretty tough line to pull off when he talked about how the coast guard asks you to go out there, but they don’t say you have to come back.
JW: That was the motto. Bernie said that.
CG: Chris even said that it was going to be tough when we started working on it. To his credit, he really hit it.
ML: I was struck by the scene where the stranded crew is gathered in a circle to pray. It’s tough to put prayer onscreen, in part because you can’t see anything happening.
CG: We started from a place of trying to be honest. They would have had a moment for the men who were lost when the ship broke up. But I also loved the dichotomy: in the midst of all this chaos, this is what they choose to do. And then all hell breaks loose again.