A boat going to rescue a tanker sliced into half by a rampaging sea. That’s the brief Gillespie has for this film based on a true-life such rescue carried out by the US Coast Guard, which remains, more than 60 years later, their biggest operation ever.
Gillespie fulfills it. The overarching impression one takes away from this simple tale, deploying some very familiar and very unnecessary tropes, is the task up before that Coast Guard boat and that sinking hulk of a ship. Chris Pine as the anchor of that boat and hence this film is an effective choice, a good-looking, clean all-American hero with the shiny eyes one can’t ignore.
It’s February 1952 and Bernie (Pine) is enjoying a slow, romantic dance with his girlfriend Miriam (a much-too-perfect Grainger, who won’t show a smudge or a hair out of place through all that follows) when she drops a bombshell that they should get married. The point of this exercise is that Bernie is a man led by anyone whom he lets lead, including his commanding officer (a horribly underused Bana). Bernie is also running low on confidence since having botched up a rescue sometime earlier, leading to eight deaths.
Even as Miriam is prodding Bernie on to let his superior know about their April wedding plans, the horrible storm comes, breaking apart not just one but two tankers in one night. It falls upon Bernie and three of his “crew” to go towards the rescue of the tanker Pendleton.
The first obstacle is a sandbar that their tiny boat must cross, where huge waves build up and crash down in storms like this. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe does a fine job of shooting those waves, with the boat a perilously vulnerable speck in their fury.
Over on the other side, at the Pendleton, not only is the ship now just half of itself, water is also rushing in from a crack in the hull. It falls upon quiet engine man Sybert (Affleck) to steer the frightened crew. His plan is to run the ship aground while trying to hold off water to give someone a chance to rescue them. Again, the film presents an effective picture of the scale of what goes into running a ship, and how everything becomes entirely unpredictable once that water comes rushing in.
It’s the scenes offshore, especially involving Grainger, that drain from the drama of both these stories, and yet the film keeps falling back on them. Only the snow that blankets the landscape making the ground as bleak as the sea is worth the effort.
The other wrong note is Casey Affleck, who tries so hard to infuse gravitas that he is almost a caricature. That image of him sitting down at a table peeling a boiled egg carefully as a scared ship’s crew watch on is almost laughable.
Still those are the few flourishes Gillespie allows, in a film that largely lets its worthy story do the talking.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger