A Little History on the Silver Screen

By Rebecca Byrd

I am always on the prowl for a quality movie, but this is sometimes difficult to find. Fortunately, my husband and I came across these two movies recently—both of which are based on true events and are well-made, clean, and exciting to watch.

The Finest Hours

(Check out the trailer!)

This is in movie theaters right now, and we were able to see it over the Valentine’s Day weekend. Most of the movie takes place on the night of Feb. 18, 1952, when New England U.S. Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber (played by Chris Pine) is given orders to take a crew to rescue sailors on the split SS Pendleton. Unfortunately, it is the worst storm of this particular winter—rivaled only by a storm from the previous winter where several men were lost—and is further complicated by the fact that the crew has to cross the potentially deadly bar before making it into the ocean to attempt rescue. The events of the oil tanker unfold with Ray Sibert (played by Casey Affleck) leading the rest of the sailors to run the ship aground, in an effort to buy more time before their hopeful rescue.

Overall I thought the special effects were outstanding (especially the scene crossing the bar), although I was periodically reminded that they were on a movie set when the rescue crew didn’t seem too cold. But I know—we can’t have actors getting hypothermia… While predictable if you know the historical events (and perhaps a bit predictable even still), I thought it was nevertheless a solid dramatization of one of the Coast Guard’s most impressive rescues.

Bridge of Spies

(Here’s the trailer!)

Bridge of Spies is another one we really enjoyed, probably even more than “The Finest Hours.” It has been out for several months now and is available on Google Play for rent ($4.99). Written by the Coen Brothers, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Tom Hanks…this movie was bound to be good, and it did not disappoint. It’s the well-crafted telling of James Donovan’s 1957 defense of alleged Russian spy Rudolf Abel. Around the same time of Donovan’s defense, US Air Force pilot Francis Powers is shot down over Russia during a recon mission endorsed by the CIA, and American grad student Frederic Pryor is captured on the wrong side of the Berlin wall and taken into custody of the East Germans. After saving Abel from the electric chair and appealing his case to the Supreme Court, Donovan is then asked by the U.S. government to negotiate the overseas trade of Abel for Powers. Having learned about Pryor, however, Donovan is not satisfied with bringing just one American home and tries to negotiate the return of Pryor as well.

It is clear that after his initial hesitance to take the case that Donovan is on a humanitarian mission, but this aspect is not overdone in the movie. I think Tom Hanks plays a level-headed gentleman quite well, acknowledging several times to other characters that each person matters and is worthy of an honest defense in an American court. It is interesting to see all three stories unfold simultaneously and sobering to watch the depiction of East Germany and the completion of the Berlin wall. As any good film with historical context will do, it left me wanting to research more about the events which inspired the movie (they did take some historical liberty, as most filmmakers do). The movie is over two hours long, but at no point did I feel like it was dragging on. So, watch this and consider it Oscars homework (nominated for 2016 Best Picture)!

Finally, we saw this preview before seeing The Finest Hours and look forward to watching it at some point as well. Race is coming out in just a few days!

Rebecca graduated from Southeastern with a M.A. in Christian Ethics and is now pursuing a program in English Education. She lives with her husband and two little boys in Wake Forest.

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