A Review of 'The Finest Hours'

Chris Pine and Casey Affleck anchor this heroic tale of a miraculous real-life rescue mission. 

Posted in , Jan 26, 2016

A Review of 'The Finest Hours'

Disney’s latest foray into dark, dramatic territory comes in the form of The Finest Hours – a film based off the real-life rescue mission of the oil tanker SS Pendleton which split in two and ran aground during a violent nor’easter in 1952. Co-anchored by leading men Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, the two-hour jaunt through blustery snow scenes, raging storms and mammoth-sized waves focuses less on the action inherent in a film about the proverbial “Greatest Generation” and more on the motivations of the men sent to save (and looking to survive) mother nature’s wrath.

Despite its heavy material, the film opens with a sweet romance between Pine’s bashful, rule-abiding Coastguard serviceman Bernie Webber and feisty telephone operator Miriam (played perfectly by Holliday Granger). Their meet-cute involves a fur coat jokingly mistaken for a bear, a few awkwardly stinted conversations and trip around the harbor on a fishing vessel. Flash-forward a year, Miriam and Bernie are attending a town dance when she surprises him by popping the question. An argument in which Bernie questions whether she really wants to be married to a man in the Coast Guard ensues followed by his promise to ask his commanding officer for permission for the two to wed – a formality, not a regulation, we later discover.  

Before Bernie can make his intentions known, the station receives a distress call. A tanker has split in two, its crew floating a drift in one of the worst storms the tiny seaside town in New England has ever seen. With half of their men sent on another distress call miles up the coast, it’s up to Bernie, his four-man crew of scruffy, reluctant volunteers and their comically small 36-foot lifeboat to brave the high seas and rescue the men. Haunted by a vaguely-mentioned earlier failed rescue attempt, Bernie stoically steers his fellow officers through battering swells void of a compass and radio contact with land – both are lost when they attempt to get over a wave-breaking barrier referred to in a heavily-stinted Boston accent as “The Bahhh” – in order to hunt down the Pendleton and return safely to shore.

The film splits the action between those on land – Miriam and the rest of the town huddle around static-spewing radios for updates on the rescue while collecting clothes and food for anyone who might make it back alive – and those at sea. Bernie and his mates receive the bulk of the focus, but Affleck’s engineer Ray Sybert also gets his due.

Pine may be the obvious choice for leading man but it’s Affleck who scowls his way into the role, playing a man ostracized by the oil tanker’s crew who is able to Macgiver some rusty ship parts in order to steer the broken vessel to a sandbar, buying the men valuable time and earning their trust and respect in the process. While Pine often seems awkwardly out of place trying to inhabit Bernie’s “aww schucks” demeanor, Affleck rises to the occasion with Sybert – one scene in which he peels a boiled egg while relaying the amount of time the crew has left before plunging to the depths of the ocean is both grave and oddly comical.

In the end, this is Disney, so while the better half of the movie has all of the makings of  The Perfect Storm part two, you can't help but get the feeling that this trip to sea will have a much happier ending. Flubbed accents aside, the cast does well to bring the necessary weight and tension needed to believe the rescue is as equally dangerous and miraculous on screen as it was in real-life and you’re bound to leave the theater both inspired and a bit nostalgic for an era in American history in which everyday men and women often proved to be heroes.

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