If ever there was a movie to make you thankful for the landlocked life right here in oceanless Alberta, it’s The Finest Hours. Following in the grand tradition of such seasick-making modern classics as Titanic, The Perfect Storm, and the recent In the Heart of the Sea, this movie really shows its audience what it takes to be a Coast Guard rescuer. It takes a dedication to duty, nerves of steel (and a stomach of steel too), and an overriding ability to not notice how wet everything is and how easily things can go belly up.
This story is based on actual events and boy am I glad that I wasn’t there. On Feb. 18, 1952, a major nor’easter storm broke apart a seafaring tanker off of Cape Cod, and a large Coast Guard boat was dispatched to the rescue. It was only after they left that another tanker called the SS Pendleton was discovered on radar also broken in half. With no other choice – they say that they always go out to rescue even if they never come back – another crew was sent on a much, much smaller vessel. There were a few dozen crewmembers on the Pendleton and the lifeboat that arrived had space for a dozen, including the four rescuers. Somehow they managed to save 32.
Now, despite the intensity of the action and the harrowing adventure of what might have been called an impossible mission, this is a Disney film. That means you can take heart that a solid happy ending will arrive. That, and there won’t be a single cuss word. Frankly, I’ve never seen so many sailors not use blue language.
But the point is not that. The story is the key here and it’s a bona fide story of heroism, survival, instinct, ingenuity, and redemption. It’s compellingly told and backed up by a cast of performers, some of whom have never acted so well. Chris Pine plays Mate First Class Bernie Webber, the guy who gets tasked with picking a crew of three other guys to join him on the mission. I’m not sure that Pine has ever acted before this but his work here is impressive and notable. One of Webber’s crew is Seaman Richard Livesey as portrayed by Ben Foster, an actor who always does an excellent job of embodying his characters, giving them authenticity and integrity. Foster is reliably watchable.
On the Pendleton, there’s a motley crew with Casey Affleck (the more talented of the Affleck brothers, in my opinion) as Ray Sybert. After the ship breaks apart, he takes the lead in directing the rest toward the common goal of staying afloat as long as possible. I’m not sure which vessel I’d rather be on least: a massive tanker sheered in half and rolling around on the ocean like a feather in the wind, or on the lifeboat that frankly looks like a surfboard in comparison to the giant waves that it has to overcome in order to reach its destination.
Keep in mind this is all in 3-D, so yeah … it might not be a bad idea to bring some Dramamine if you get as affected by seasickness as I do. That being said, the effect adds much to the story, inserting the viewer into the dreaded and stormy fray to get a truer sense of what these people went through on that night. Usually a film with so many CG effects would get a harsher criticism from me but in this case, it’s appropriate and it works.
As for the human element, that works too. This is a tale that does as much to emphasize the emotional side of things as well as the heroic. The first part of The Finest Hours shows Webber courting a young woman named Miriam (Holliday Grainger), and she becomes her own kind of hero as she confronts the Coast Guard commander (played by Eric Bana) and showing the salty yet stoic sailors that it’s important to think of rescuers’ families too.
In the end, I was impressed: a little wobbly-legged from the rocking, yes, and wiping a tear from my sentimental eye. Director Craig Gillespie sure knows how to pluck away at those heartstrings, but in a story like this, who could blame him? This movie also renews my appreciation for first responders of all stripes and uniforms. They commit to working under some of the most stressful conditions repeatedly and they all deserve a hero’s movie like this to show the world.
My only criticism is this: in my research on the real story of the rescue, I learned that there were actually 33 people saved. Why would the moviemakers say it was 32? That makes no sense.
The Finest Hours
Starring Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, and Eric Bana
Directed by Curtis Gillespie
Written by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy
Rated: PG for scenes of peril, violence, and foul language
Runtime: 117 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatres