Letter of Recommendation: Movies based on true stories


Kelsey Kennard

The real rescue boat from the film, The Finest Hours.

As far as the film world goes, movies based on true stories do not get as much recognition. They tend to be less popular at the box office and overall not talked about as much. Recently over this time of social distancing, I have found myself diving into this genre, finding the suspense and the actions real people took to be shocking. Movies based on true stories feel so surreal that I cannot believe someone actually lived that, but they did. These films are incredible testimonies of the past that deserve more credit from audiences. McFarland, USA, The Finest Hours, and Beautiful Mind are exceptional movies that are worth the watch when there is so much time to kill.

Many will recognize the title McFarland, USA because it is shown in many Spanish classes. It follows the story of Coach Jim White, who moves to a predominantly Latino high school in California. When he realizes the talent many students have of running at the school, he recruits them one by one for a cross country team. He helped students who almost got expelled or suspended by having them join the team instead. They fight to win a state championship, going against schools with a lot more resources treating them like a joke.

McFarland, USA is an eye-opening film, showing a whole new community that most in Fort Collins have not experienced. It is a small, poor town located in Central Valley. Most work in the fields, as well as the children. The boys on the team wake up extremely early to work even before school starts and work there after as well. They work to build a different future than what generations before them have had. Often I think people settle in and take opportunities like getting a high school education or going to college for granted, not wanting to put effort in or show up. However, people who use education and sports in this movie to find hope and opportunity reminds us why we should work hard as well.

Although the town is poor, they display an unconditional love towards their neighbors that everyone can learn from. They constantly support each other with food, labor, and support. Because of COVID-19, we are learning how to have more of the selfless love that they have towards others, but we are not quite there yet. We are learning what community means right now in a way that they have already found. We are more loving and kind to those around us, and we are more willing to help people than ever before.

Although this is a sports movie, it does not feel like one. I know many who do not like the sports genre of film, but this is so much more. It is a display of strength within a brotherhood that fights against everyone that tells them they can never be successful. Coach White came into this town wanting to leave as soon as possible, but he learns to take a situation that he cannot control and learns to embrace it and find his place within it. This is a perfect quarantine movie to teach anyone about how we can face our current situation within ourselves and around others. No, it is not about social distancing but you will walk away feeling inspired to make the most of our situation.

I did not know that The Finest Hours was based on a true story until the end of it, and it is by far the most insane story I have ever heard. It is shocking. When I was watching that I was constantly thinking something like that just could not be real, but it was. While out in a raging storm on a seemingly sturdy ship, the SS Pendleton gets split in two. Half sinks, while the other half still containing the motors can stay afloat for longer, but not too much longer. While they work on trying to continue to move towards shore, Bernie Webber takes a small crew on a rescue boat to try to save over thirty survivors still on the ship. 

This film has a very different dynamic and feel than McFarland, USA, giving you a variety of genres during your quarantine binges. It is gripping. Because of the storm, the movie is tense and it always stays tense, never letting the audience off the hook for even one second. The tiny rescue boat in the middle of massive swells of water seems like it could not have survived, and they were drenched in ocean water and rain. Both boats struggle to stay afloat, and it is a struggle that I felt too. I was safe at home but I worried about drowning with them. I felt lost at sea as well, stuck without a compass and what feels like never-ending searching.

I cannot do justice to this film by talking about it. It has an amazing cast and an even more amazing story that I am still shocked is true. It did not do well in theaters but do not let that deter you away from adding it to your watchlist. You will not understand the intense pressure and bewilderment of The Finest Hours until you see it. I want to watch it over and over just to understand how on earth that mission happened. 

Released back in 2001, Beautiful Mind follows a schizophrenic mathematician, John Forbes Nash, whose ideas with numbers are ahead of his time. He has a true, natural gift, one which grows even as he does not attend his college classes. It shifts between seeing what Nash sees and what is reality. It is a haunting story when the truth is unveiled. Beautiful Mind is difficult to watch, diving deep into a constant fight with mental health and intense treatment. 

Depite this, it is worth the watch. It shows how a man learns how to cope with his understanding of himself, battling with everyone around him. He learns how to return to his drive towards mathematical discovery when he is drained of everything he has. During this time, his wife always sticks by his side, even when she is drained as well or afraid. It shows relationships with friends, crowds, strangers, and his wife. 

Beautiful Mind is so impactful because it shows years and years of time, and how improvements can occur slowly. It is the definition of “it gets better.” Others who struggle with mental illness will relate to Nash and his experiences a lot, and may find comfort in how he improves over time. No matter what, this movie of discovery and perseverance is an amazing story anyone can be inspired by. 

Movies based on true stories are surprisingly meaningful and impactful. When I recently watched these films I realized how much I am alike to or need to be more like these people. People inspire people. That is how we grow, we learn from each other. Whatever you watch during this time, consider adding these three films, or other movies from true events. You will be surprised by what you find.