The director of Million Dollar Arm and the remake of Fright Night brings you the tale of the the greatest small-boat rescue in coast guard history…as produced by The Lifetime Network.
February 18th, 1952, two tankers have split in half off the coast of Massachusetts during a severe storm. Due to the confusion this creates, only one small boat with a crew of four is left to find and assist the SS Pendleton, whose own crew is struggling to keep what remains of their vessel afloat long enough for rescue to arrive.
I’m hard pressed to name any movie with characters and performances this dull. I’m not sure if it’s correct to put the blame on the actors, as they’re all so consistently bland that this had to have been a directing choice.
There are talented actors here.For example, Chris Pine managed to take over a role previously played by William Shatner and make this reviewer believe it was the same character. It’s therefore shocking how much he disappears even when he’s dead centre of the screen. Almost every actor here is like that, speaking in bland American-ish accents and giving so little emotion to their performances that they may as well be reading the textbook account of the rescue.
The only performances that are remotely memorable are those of the Pendleton’s crew, lead by Casey Affleck as chief engineer Sybert. Their conflict as they work to keep the vessel afloat long enough for rescue are the only scenes that don’t lull the audience into a stupor.
A key component of filmmaking is the adage of, “show, don’t tell,” so an audience will connect more with characters that are shown in situations, rather than being told about the situation. There are times when it’s necessary for expedience to get some backstory out of the way via dialog, but those cases are usually secondary to the story being told and even then should flow naturally from character interactions.
Here, the opposite approach is taken. Before he rescues the Pendleton, Bernie (Pine) and and his fiance Miriam (Holliday Grainger) only share two scenes on screen together: when they first
meet, and then few months later when she proposes. From those two brief interactions the audience is supposed to care about this couple’s relationship which developed completely off screen. There’s not even a montage of them growing closer, which would at least have been something. Even what little dialog there is between the two is forced, ranging from a joke about her looking like ‘Smokey’ in her bearskin coat, to her nagging him over the phone about getting their marriage approved. Just the fact that they’re getting married is supposed to make us care. I never did.
Similarly, we’re told some of the townsfolk are upset with Bernie due to him not rescuing a fishing vessel about a year earlier. We never see this failed rescue, nor are we given any details about why he couldn’t do it, just that it wasn’t successful and some people are upset at Bernie about it. Given that near the climax of the film it is finally revealed that there was nothing Bernie could have done — and it really is stated just that matter of factly with no further details — the fact that it was brought up at all is a completely pointless diversion.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the differences between the film and the actual events on the Pendleton:
- The unseen captain seems responsible for the wreck by maintaining speed despite warnings from chief engineer Sybert (Casey Affleck)
- The crew is initially disrespectful of Sybert and wanted to abandon ship
- The tiller is jury rigged to operate manually via a large boom
- They run the ship aground to keep it from sinking
- The rescue is done in complete darkness, with no overhead support aircraft
- The return to shore is likewise heavily dramatized and melodramatic
While I understand the narrative necessity of modifying some elements to tell an interesting story, it’s unforgivable when so much runs counter to the actual events so much so that they’re barely related or recognizable.
Cinematography & Visual Effects
Uninspired and lazy, with some of the flattest 3D effects I’ve seen.
The vast majority of shots in this film are close-ups of the actors’ faces, in particular Pine’s, as he drives his boat towards the Pendleton. This makes continuity errors far more noticeable. There are several times when the boat goes completely underwater, and yet in the next shot the actors are no more wet than before. Maybe the idea is that they’re already soaked, but surely their appearance would change somewhat. At one point Webber’s nose is red from cold, but in the next scene it’s back to normal.
The close-ups also make it far more evident that most of this film is actors on a small set with a green screen. This could be understandable given the budget, but when the dialog and set up is all
about a small boat in the middle of a vast and turbulent sea, such close ups paired with a constantly blurry background absolutely fail to give the proper perspective. It’s another case of the movie telling us the situation instead of showing it. There are a few somewhat interesting shots where the boat is shown against a backdrop of waves, but these are so few in number and so obviously computer generated that they lose all impression.
Even the action scenes where the boat attempts to get through large waves are all in close up, consisting of a shot of Pine adjusting the throttle, switching to the propeller changing speed, then repeat until a shot shows the boat either over the wave or driving underneath it, then a close up of Pine again. It’s monotonous.
Most of the outdoor shots fail to convey the sense of the huge storm the dialog refers to. Snowfall and wind appear to be surprisingly light, as the characters are unruffled and barely shiver even if they’re not wearing a jacket.
Additionally, the many scenes that show cars simply driving along empty roads during the supposed climax of the film where cars gather at the dock and shine their lights to sea to give a target for the returning crew, becomes laughably comic rather than dramatic.
On shore, the situation is not much better. While in the coast guard station – or really any interior – it’s all level medium shots, usually to show as many people as possible. Combined with the aforementioned dull acting, such static shots do nothing to liven the film.
It is only aboard the Pendleton where this type of cinematography suits the film. The vessel feels claustrophobic, and the close-up and level medium shots showing lots of water and the action of the crew work well to accentuate that atmosphere. There’s drama as the crew wrestles with the tiller against the storm.. Sybert cuts a lifeboat free and it smashes against the ship’s hull in the waves demonstrating how useless said lifeboat would be in the storm. Even the rescue itself is reasonably dramatic, with the boat riding wave crests up to pick up crewmen dangling from a rope ladder. However, after the rescue it’s back to more of the same unimaginative shots that plagued the prior scenes on the boat and shore.
Music & Sound
While far from the worse I’ve heard, this is still subpar.
There are scenes where the Pendleton crew is shouting updates to each other, but the music is so overpowering that it drowns out the words. There’s also, yet again, a clear mismatch between what is being said in dialog and what is heard in the film. For a supposedly major storm, the dialog is far too clear over the sound of the waves and wind. It’s a rather odd contrast choosing to drown out dialog we should be able to hear with music, while allowing normal dialog to be unimpeded by what should be natural storm noises.
If not clear by now, I’m at a complete loss for why this film is structured the way it is. The story of the crew on the Pendleton is by far the most interesting part, driven by the conflict between the crew itself and the vessel as they struggle simply to stay alive. However, that only accounts for about 20% of actual screen time. Even then, those scenes get repetitive – I’m not sure we needed two scenes of the crew shouting direction orders in a telephone-game style from the deck to the engine room. Still, at least the action there, buoyed by Casey Affleck’s performance, gives the audience something to care about.
The majority of the film is split between people on shore and the four on the boat. Simply put, I did not care about any of it. It’s not interesting watching someone drive a boat, no matter how rough we’re told the seas are. Nor do I care when Miriam begs Officer Cluff (Eric Bana) to call back the boat, since her relationship with Bernie is underdeveloped. Several townspeople talk about Bernie’s failure at a previous rescue, but as we’re never shown nor told any details about the event it’s impossible to sympathize.
In short, the film is structured around the least interesting part of it’s story – a story, need I remind you, that was already so highly changed from the actual events the excuse of “this is actually how it happened,” does not hold.
It took me several attempts to write this review before I realized I needed to adjust my format for the film. When I tried to start as I usually do, with the plot first and then the other elements, I just ended up rambling.. It took realizing that I needed to start at the bottom with the performances and work my way up to the plot before I finally managed to managed to get some form it into something reasonably coherent.
The four men who rescued the crew of the Pendleton all received the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal for their heroic actions. I’m sure they risked their own lives to save those men. I’m likewise equally sure that those in the Coast Guard have a very hard job and deserve a film that properly conveys the perils they face day to day.
Unfortunately, this is not that film.
It mangles the actual events, and doesn’t even manage to be an entertaining and engaging film on its own. The fact that it made me look up the actual story of the Pendleton rescue is the only thing it has in its favour, but that just made me mad that these men were so poorly represented.
Definitely one to avoid.