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The Finest Hours Producer on the Faith, Hope, and Love in Bernie Webber’s Story

Chris Pine in The Finest Hours
Movie Info
 

RATING:

PG-13 for intense sequences of peril

GENRES:

Action, Drama, History

RELEASE:

January 29, 2016

STARRING:

Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, Eric Bana, Graham McTavish, Michael Raymond-James

DIRECTOR:

Craig Gillespie

DISTRIBUTOR:

Walt Disney Pictures

More on this movie at IMDb.com

Walt Disney Pictures' The Finest Hours is not marketed as a "faith-based film", but the real-life hero it focuses on was a man of faith and his story is full of hope and love.

Bernard 'Bernie' Webber, at one time, thought of becoming a minister. That's what his father was, and up until the dangerous night of February 18, 1952, Bernie thought that might be his noble calling too. He was wrong. For on that night, the U.S. Coast Guardsman realized his calling was for that moment, to rescue 32 souls trapped onboard the shipwrecked S.S. Pendleton off the coast of Cape Cod.

The Finest Hours also recounts the first year of his life-long love story with Miriam and his personal struggle between doubt and the hope that eventually pushed him to look past the nor'easter's impenetrable waves.

Leading man Chris Pine, most known for his role as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek films, dons Bernie's Coast Guard cap in this based-on-true-events role. A team of dedicated storytellers worked alongside Pine on location in Massachusetts to make this movie a reality, including producer Jim Whitaker (Cinderella Man, Robin Hood, The Odd Life of Timothy Green).

On a recent phone call, Whitaker shared more about turning Bernie's story into a major motion picture and what he hopes moviegoers will take away from it. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

On why it was important to make The Finest Hours

Jim Whitaker: [The Finest Hours]is actually the very full embodiment of hope and it's one of the main reasons I wanted to make it…. It's this extraordinary tale about these ordinary guys who, and one in particular, Bernie Webber, who at every point has the opportunities to turn away from the heart of things, he turns into it with the belief and a faith, and hope, ultimately, that he is going to succeed and that it's the right thing to do. I find that very inspiring and feel like, in essence, that is very much what the film is about.

On reading about this incredibly personal and historical story for the first time…

Whitaker: I just was continually amazed at every point. I was reading [the book the movie is based on] and I thought, 'This can't be true. My gosh, this can't be true.' It just keeps unfolding in a way that surprised me. And in doing what I do, you're always looking for great stories, but when they can be true and amazing in this way they're all the more incredible. I'm personally always interested in the humanity of a story and how to bring that out. When you can portray something on the screen that's true and exemplifies a great human spirit that people can look at and say, 'I'm inspired by that', I think that's terrific.

On the hero of The Finest Hours, Bernie Webber…

Whitaker: Bernie was a really, by all accounts, a very ordinary guy who was given this job to do and very selflessly just said, 'OK, that's my job. They asked me to do it. I'm going to go do it.' He didn't think of himself. He only thought of the others who needed to be rescued, and he leaned into that in such a humble and dignified way. Any time you can show that, in particular because it was all true, it's incredibly inspiring. It's also aspirational. It allows people to aspire to the better parts of themselves, and what they can be. If they see it in others and think, 'Wow, that person absolutely leaned into the hardest thing, and in his darkest hour he found a way to go deeper and then ultimately to succeed in doing something incredibly heroic', it's pretty awesome in the true sense of the word.

On the faith of Bernie Webber…

Whitaker: It was actually on the rescue that he really came to understand his faith. He viewed the rescue as a divine providence, really, that there was a guiding hand in it. [As he faced the storm and went out on the rescue], he had a moment where he really got in touch with the depths of how serious of a situation he was in, and the need for him to just reach down deep. Candidly, he felt that God had a hand in it. It was also a moment for him to really understand that his calling really wasn't to be a minister; in fact, it was to be a coast guard. It was to be there at that point in time.

I think the film quite beautifully portrays in action those moments of faith and determination, and fate—that he acted according to what his inner compass was saying and did the right thing. So I feel that it's important; it was an important part of his maturation and growth as a human being.

On Bernie and Miriam's love story…

Whitaker: Every incident that happened with Miriam and Bernie in [The Finest Hours]…all of those were true. She came out of the phone booth on a blind date, and he described it as she looked like a bear in a coat, and it was exactly the same [in the movie]. He looked at her and having spoken to her for two weeks over the telephone, he fell immediately in love. Just a small story on that, a backstory, is that she was a telephone operator who had been listening to a call where Bernie had set up a date that he was going to go on, but because of the circumstances, that night he had to go on a rescue, he had to call [his date] and say, 'I'm really sorry but I can't make it'. The way in which he turned her down, Miriam heard the gentleman kind way that he turned her down, and she immediately said, 'That's a man I want to meet.' So she started to call the Coast Guard station asking for a Bobby or a Bert, couldn't quite get the names figured out. Eventually though, 'Are you looking for Bernie Webber?' And she goes, 'Yeah, I think I am.' They began what was a two-week courtship over the phone without ever seeing each other, and fell in love. So the moment the movie begins, that moment when she turns around, he's really already in love. He's just hoping that she'll be in love and he'll be in love, and it will all sort of go from there. It did for 59 years. It was quite an incredible romance.

On what the filmmaker wants audiences to walk away with after seeing The Finest Hours

Whitaker: I feel like the film is an active demonstration of hope and resilience…. The men in this story are very ordinary people. They're regular people who got up every morning, they went and did their job. They did what was asked of them and they were prepared to do it in the face of insurmountable odds and danger. But at the end of the day, they went home to their families. They were very, very ordinary folks who just gave selflessly of themselves. They gave of themselves for others, and the message in all of it is that even the most ordinary of people in the darkest of times, which we all can experience in life, have the resiliency to continue to move forward and just step by step dig out of anything that's difficult, to come to a better conclusion and a better ending. That's what I think Bernie did that night, and I think it's a great demonstration and lesson potentially for everyone, just in their everyday lives.

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