by: Anthony Zangrillo
Full Audio from call: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsVfoxjNaf8
The Motion Picture Club recently participated in a college conference call with Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, the stars of the new Disney release The Finest Hours. This film depicts 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. This storm wrecked havoc on ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston. The tanker was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 soldiers inside its rapidly-sinking stern. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (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.
Originally, Casey became interested in this project due to Disney’s “great effort” in making movies that “have a strong message and a good story, good characters.” It was “refreshing” to Casey for a movie studio to make a film that revolves around foundational “core values.” On a side note, Casey relished the opportunity to film in his “home” of Massachusetts. In Casey’s opinion, “Boston is…a great place to make movies cause they’ve been making movies here for a long time. They’ve got really good crews…everyone’s professional.”
Casey researched the events behind the film, and he was shocked to discover the veracity of this “amazing story.” Casey expressed excitement over the “spectacle…[of] how big the ship was and…how big those waves must have been to split a 500-foot Oil Tanker in half. It’s the kind of thing you want to see someone make a movie of so you can go watch it.” Thematically, Casey admirably remarked that this film “feels like an old movie” in terms of writing and storytelling. The filmmakers modernized the story through “digital cinema” presentations that allow the color and gigantic set pieces to pop off the screen.
Moving to Chris, he fondly recalled shooting at the Lighthouse in Chatham. The crew had a chance to shoot exteriors at this location, but Chris wished that they also visited the Cafeteria, where “Bernie and his boys took a photo…right after the night had ended.” When asked if Chris or Casey got the opportunity to meet the survivors of the Pendleton, they answered that they had not met the survivors, but they did tour a boat similar to the T2, in order to “get a sense of what [the Pendleton] was like, which is…pretty amazing.”
Even though Chris didn’t know Bernie, he “cull[ed] an idea of who the man might have been” through first-hand accounts from Andy Fitzgerald, who was on the boat with him that night and Moe Gutthrew, Bernie’s best friend, in addition to Bernie’s autobiography and obviously, the book “The Finest Hours.” Furthermore, the script presented “a simple guy that loved his job and loved the waters…[he] knew what he was doing out there but was obviously affected by, a tragedy that happened a year before and didn’t know if he was up for the task of going out that night…I do love the idea of a regular man up against seemingly insurmountable odds and more than anything, I kind of related to Bernie’s fear.” Chris admired Bernie’s demeanor of “wear[ing] his heart on his sleeve. And he’s he’s not like many of us that…put on all this armor and try to be macho and tough…Bernie doesn’t, at least from the script…doesn’t think that way. He…just kind of wears his heart on his sleeve, wants to do a good job, [and] loves his wife[.]”
Analyzing Bernie’s character, Chris believes “we [audiences] all like stories of the mavericks and the guys that…go against the grain, and I think what we enjoy about men like that is they usually operate from the sense of an inner moral compass. And…I think part of Bernie’s evolution, it’s not that following rules are bad, it’s just that Bernie, by following rules so closely, had lost his voice and, by learning to speak up for himself and to trust his instincts, trust his gut, trust his knowledge of those waters” in order to regain his spirit. Even though Chris will “never know what it’s really like to be a Coast Guardsman, or really never know what it’s like to go up against 70 foot waves and…zero visibility and what it’s like to rescue men off a split Oil Tanker, there are certain kind of general Human emotions and feelings that you can attach to [characters] and bring your own experience to [their portrayal].” Chris sincerely believes that there is an “honesty and truth to him [Bernie]. He’s just a good solid man…who goes about business not seeking any sort of pat on the back…He [just] wants to do right…And I learned a lot from him. I think about that…there is a purity in wanting to do your job well and to serve other people…And oftentimes in [the film] business, it’s all about, stuff [twitter and selfies] that’s completely opposite from…those good old fashioned values.”