For one thing, the film was an interesting "period piece." Set in 1951-52, it wasn't really "the fifties" yet, but more like the forties. Seeing the old cars, clothing fashions, and the old-fashioned kitchen furnishings was pleasing to the eye and definitely helped to set the mood. Some may see it as simply old-fashioned and nostalgic, but I saw it as a period piece effectively telling a true-life story of heroism and struggle against the elements.
I was impressed with Chris Pine's portrayal of the lead character, Bernie, who leads a small Coast Guard crew to rescue the survivors of an oil tanker that has broken apart in gale force winds and choppy seas. Suddenly he was not just "that other actor who played Captain Kirk" in the new Star Trek reboot. He demonstrated some depth and breath in his acting ability. Casey Affleck (Ben's brother) also gave an effective performance as Pine's "counter part" -- the one on the oil tanker who rises to a leadership role to rally the remnant of a crew in order to stay alive long enough to be rescued.
An Understated Culture
The acting on everyone's part was subtle rather than larger than life. We were given a picture of ordinary people, just "regular guys," who became heroes under very extreme circumstances. I had a little difficulty following the New England accents at first, but the Maine dialect that Pine and the other actors were able to capture gave the story more authenticity in my mind.
We also see something of the complicated and subtle masculine culture of coastal Maine. We see that guys expect guys to do things in certain ways. Bernie is in the Coast Guard, and we come to see that he believes in doing everything according to regulation, even to the point of getting permission from his commanding officer to marry his girlfriend. It is ironic that Bernie's colleagues seem to look askance at his intent to do everything by the book, yet at the same time they have their own demands about how one should act in order to get along in their world.
Photography Brings it Together
The photography was so good, it could almost qualify for the role of best supporting actor. Indeed, the photography along with the special effects did much to carry the story along, whether is was an aerial pan of the area to fully orient the audience to the location of the men at sea, or the slow motion depictions of waves spraying across the bow and men struggled against nature.
While the photography was setting the mood, the music helped to underscore that mood. At one point when Bernie's girlfriend, Miriam, is looking out toward the sea wondering how her beloved is faring, I found myself thinking, This looks like a moment evoked by so many sea shanties. Sure enough, there was the singing of a sea shanty, "Haul Away Joe," by some of characters on the boat. The greater musical treat, however, came during the closing credits when the Irish group, "Kodaline," sang "Haul Away Joe." Their performance was so good that I had to look up the group to see who they were and what else they were doing.
It is an intense story with with great music, great photography, and a happy ending. Based on a true story, we see ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things. Just do not leave the theater during the closing credits until you have heard Kodaline sing "Haul Away Joe."
Here's the promotional trailer:
- Chris Pine as Boatswain's Mate First Class Bernard "Bernie" Webber
- Casey Affleck as Ray Sybert
- Ben Foster as Seaman Richard Livesey
- Holliday Grainger as Miriam Pentinen Webber
- John Ortiz as Seaman Wallace Quirey
- Eric Bana as Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff
- Josh Stewart as Tchuda Southerland
- Graham McTavish as Frank Fauteux
- Kyle Gallner as Engineman Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald
- Keiynan Lonsdale as Eldon Hanan
- Rachel Brosnahan as Bea Hansen
- Michael Raymond-James as A.B. Seaman D.A. Brown
- John Magaro as Seaman Ervin Maske
- Matthew Maher as Carl Nickerson
- Benjamin Koldyke as Donald Bangs
- Beau Knapp as Mel Gouthro
* For example, see my review of Three Days of the Condor, or my discussion of The Americanization of Emily.