The Finest Hours: Massachusetts Chili Recipe

Year Released: 2016

Directed by: Craig Gillespie 

Starring: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana

(PG-13, 117 min.)

Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure, Mystery and Suspense

"There are no extraordinary men... just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with."  Admiral William “Bull” Halsey

A sweet romance, a reluctant hero, and the storm of a century.  With none of the hype and over the top mayhem of most disaster flicks, this film draws us in by tuning it down.

Part of what keeps it real is the basis of the film, the actual February 1952 “greatest small boat rescue in history.”  The storm is a nor’easter with gale force winds and waves cresting up to 70 feet high.  The oil tanker, the SS Pendleton, a World War II relic, made in haste with inferior steel and weak welds, is no match for this storm, and it actually splits in half, instantly killing the captain and 7 crew members in the forward section that immediately sinks, but leaving 33 men in the aft section with a fighting chance – for a few hours at least.

We have great action on the T-2 tanker as well as the little 36-foot Coast Guard boat taxed with coming to their rescue.  Though the film certainly relied on CGI effects, which by the way, were excellent, much of the action was created the old fashioned way:

The movie was filmed mostly on a soundstage at the former Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Mass.  Production assistants scuttled back and forth on scooters and bicycles across the vast space, whose 800,000-gallon tank relied on wave and wind machines, and what amounted to a giant, ceiling-mounted shower head.

A dry-land replica of the CG36 was mounted on gimbals so that it could roll and plunge, and another replica floated in the tank along with a full-size, tiltable mock-up of the Pendleton hull.

A replica of the Pendleton engine room — floodable, hydraulically shakable and exact down to the grime on the gauges and rust on the pipes — lay only a short hike away, as did a mock-up of Coast Guard Station Chatham, dusted with unmelting artificial snow.

Much of the shoot required that the actors look cold and wet — not hard to achieve. For some scenes, they were soaked with a hose even before the overhead shower was turned on.

Most wore wet suits under their costumes and, between takes, wrapped themselves in sweatsuits and stuck their feet in Ugg boots.

If you are a lover of submarine flicks, the kind where in inner sense of claustrophobia and paranoia compete with testosterone fueled fear and rage, you will not be disappointed with the tanker scenes, which occur mostly down in the flooding engine room.

Casey Affleck plays engineer Ray Sybert, a quiet loner who has to rally the men around his unorthodox plan to save them.  Just like his counterpart, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), the Coast Guardsman sent on a “suicide rescue,” his heroism is understated and stoic.  While Ray Sybert thinks out of the box, Bernie Webber seems constricted in his.  He doesn’t question or even flinch when the new station chief, a Texan unfamiliar with the treacherous waters off the Chatham station, orders him out to sea, reminding his fellow guardsman,

In the coast guard they say you go out. They don't say you gotta come back.

There is no braggadocio or melodrama in these men.  No verbal barbs like those hurled by the Avengers' ego driven family of dysfunctional superheroes. Some critics seen to miss this banter or the hyper masculine ideal of the Fast and Furious franchise. One critic even labels Bernie as “socially awkward” and “annoying,” and Ray as limited by an “aww shucks” manner. But that’s more often the case with real heroes, and in fact, their rather ordinary personalities make their extraordinary actions all the more unexpected and thrilling, as when the ultra compliant Bernie starts to break the rules the farther out to sea he goes.

Another endearing element is the authentic 1950s atmosphere. It is not just the cars – actually most are relics from the forties, but that would be true in this little blue-collar town, where a new automobile would be a rare treat. Nor is it merely the clothes, especially the tailored outfits worn by Bernie’s fiancée Miriam (Holliday Grainger), fitted dresses and coats, recalling the coordinated elegance of even a little working girl from that era.

The taciturn men at the local bar, quiet, formal, and only seemingly aloof, do not even seem like actors.  The townspeople who drive to the Coast Guard station with their casseroles and coffee, hoping against hope for survivors, have that sense of community that our smart phones, Twitter and Facebook accounts seem to have replaced.  A romance that is sweet and chaste, even if the feisty Miriam is the one to propose marriage instead of Bernie, reminds us of simpler times and a lost innocence that some may not even remember.

Maybe that’s why some younger critics are so eager to dismiss this fine film.  It taps deep into our authentic humanity and heroism, not Hollywood’s hyped celluloid imitation of it.  Not to miss for the whole family.

–Kathy Borich


Film-Loving Foodie

As the night wears on, the people of Chatham hope against hope that the 36-foot rescue boat will return from the treacherous seas.  A procession of cars makes its way through the snow-filled streets to the small Coast Guard station, bringing warm food and coffee to welcome any survivors.

The women busy themselves in the kitchen, a soothing ritual that calms overwrought nerves. 

One local dish would be especially warming, Massachusetts Chili, made with both ground and cubed beef.  


Massachusetts Chili


3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large onions, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 pound lean ground beef Beef Ground Chuck

1/2 pound beef stew meat, diced into 1 inch pieces

1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (14 ounce) can beef broth

1/2 pound dry kidney beans

2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar


Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Saute onions and bell pepper until tender. Add garlic, ground beef and stew meat and cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, beef broth and kidney beans to the stockpot, cover and bring to a boil. Let the mixture boil for 4 to 5 minutes then stir in the chili powder, Italian seasoning, salt and brown sugar. Simmer uncovered for about 2 hours, or until the chili thickens and beans are tender.