Director Greg Gillespie’s The Finest Hours tells the true story of the United States Coast Guard’s most daring and mostly successful rescue in their history in 1952. It was during a Nor’easter that literally broke not one, but two oil tankers in half. When I say broke in half, that means they were snapped in two like twigs. The ships, SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer were both off of the Chatham Massachusetts coast on Cape Code. Bernard “Bernie” Webber is tasked with a crew of four to take a Coast Guard vessel to the SS Pendleton and rescue the survivors. With his four man crew he sets out in seas that are a cauldron of freezing ocean water, ice, rain, sleet, snow. Towering waves, hurricane force winds and extremely poor visibility made their task almost impossible and in a vessel only 36′ long, they did not stand much of a chance of coming back, themselves, let alone rescuing anybody.
The Finest Hours is a Disney film, based on the book, of the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, so to be sure this will end mostly on a positive note. But The Finest Hours is a solid film with fine acting, impressive visual effects but also with a thoughtful script By Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy. It focuses on a rather sweet and innocent courtship between Bernie (Chris Pine) and Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger). They met on a blind date and hit it off almost immediately and the film, trying to make sure there is enough screen time for the actual rescue, makes very good use of the remainder to create a romance that the viewers can believe in. These are two very kind and classy individuals and their relationship is written convincingly and I believed their love for each other. Engaged, with their lives ahead of them, Bernie is reluctant to go out on the seas, but it is his duty. Miriam is understandably frightened.
The Finest Hours is pretty standard story telling, overall, but I was invested in these characters and cared what happened to them. The story is fascinating and it balances Webber’s trek to the Pendleton’s wreckage, the crew left to try and survive on the Pendleton, and Miriam huddled by a radio on dry land, with equal conviction. There is a flow to the film as it hops from one story to the next and I was invested in all of their stories. Characters are developed and I was interested in them even the supporting characters. I particularly enjoyed Ben Foster as Bernie’s friend Seaman Richard Livesey. He is a bit cranky, but he does it with a smile and is actually a good man. Foster balances the crankiness with some humor that was endearing. Chris Pine is extremely good as Bernie Webber, also a noble, brave and good man called to do the extraordinary in seas that even seasoned fisherman would not attempt to go out in.
The supporting cast of Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, Kyle Gallner, Graham McTavish, Josh Stewart and Eric Bana all turn in excellent performances, especially Affleck playing the leader of the survivors on the Pendleton. He is not liked, but he is respected and very smart. The film never deals with why he is unpopular on the ship, but it does not hurt the story. Grainger is delightfully sweet as Miriam and it is not hard to see why Bernie falls for her. She is a keeper. Eric Bana as Daniel Cluff, the Coast Guard station’s Commander is not given that much to do, but he manages to bring some added depth to the severity of the situation. Carter Burwell’s score nicely balances the human elements of the story with the action on the high seas and is worth a listen. Director Gillespie keeps The Finest Hours moving, but also manages to keep ramping up the odds in believable fashion as the gravity of their situation fluctuates from bad to worse.
The Finest Hours keeps it safe, positive and upbeat, so you know that it will end mostly, on a happy note. I was not disappointed and although I went in to this film thinking it would play like a movie of the week for TV, it actually surprised me to be a well balanced drama and love story as well as a rousing adventure picture. The Coast Guard sometimes gets a bad rap that they don’t do much, but to the contrary. They go out, no matter how bad the weather is. As in all of our military personnel, they are the true heroes and The Finest Hours, while nothing Earth shatteringly original, exemplifies their courage in grand fashion.
The Finest Hours- ***3/4 out of 5
The Finest Hours- Rated PG-13 for some language, violence and scenes of seafaring terror
The Finest Hours- Run Time is 120 minutes
The Finest Hours is now available on DVD and On Demand