The Finest Hours is a harrowing story of death-defying heroics and teamwork. And cold. Bitter, frosty, wet, nasty cold on the high seas that’s so omnipresent you’ll want to bundle up in fear of catching the sniffles.
Huh, “fear.” Such an easy word to throw around and use lightly. No doubt the Coast Guard men who ventured through a blizzard, pounding ocean waves and pouring rain more than 10 miles offshore to rescue the crew of a shipwrecked oil tanker felt fear. How could they not? But in the face of fear, duty prevailed, and the inspiring story of The Finest Hours is the result.
The main character in rescue-oriented stories usually has one driving emotion that keeps him going; Chris Pine’s (Star Trek) Bernie Webber has two. One is his recent engagement to local girl Miriam (Holliday Grainger), whom he’s been dating for a few months, and the other is a failed rescue mission during a storm a year earlier that still haunts him. So no points for subtlety for director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), even if these facts are taken from the true story on which the movie is based.
It’s February 1952 in Massachusetts, and a horrible winter storm is pounding the coast off Cape Cod. When an oil tanker is literally split in half, Coast Guardsmen Bernie, Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) venture out for the rescue. They know it will not be easy getting to the ship through a torrential downpour and 70-foot waves, let alone rescuing the 32 survivors of the wreck. But they trust their training, throw caution and good sense to the wind, and do their duty on a small lifeboat. “We gotta go out, we don’t have to come back,” Bernie says before they leave, acknowledging the dangers of the mission.
Gillespie also intercuts the crew of the oil tanker, bravely led by Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), as they grow more anxious and restless trying to keep their ship afloat. In some ways, their situation has to be worse because they have no way of signaling anyone for help, and mere hours before the ship sinks. The tension here is certainly understandable, and never feels contrived for the sake of drama. Believe me, this story doesn’t need any more drama than it already has.
Speaking of which, there’s a bit too much of Miriam on shore causing a distraction for the film’s own good, and, yes, it seems like a Hollywood version of events rather than what was probably the real thing. However, the action is impressive and nicely accentuated by the 3D, so The Finest Hours is worth it for the upcharge. And if nothing else, a solid story about courage and true heroism is good for the soul.