In 1952 a hazardous blizzard ripped an oil tanker, the SS Pendleton, in half off the coast of Massachusetts. When the front half sinks, the remaining crew aboard the back of the ship must come together to keep what is left of the tanker afloat, to give them as much chance of a rescue as possible. Meanwhile the Coast Guard of Chatham Massachusetts must assemble a crew to attempt a rescue of the SS Pendleton survivors in the treacherous stormy waters. With their resources limited, and only a small lifeboat at their disposal it’s viewed as a suicide mission, but Bernie Webber and three other brave coast guard personnel risk their lives to see if they can bring anybody home.
From director Craig Gillespie, whose been amassing a nice little list of credits (Fright Night, Lars & The Real Girl) comes this adaptation of the book The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue. As you can tell from the title of the book this is based on a true story of the brave actions of a few men from the U.S. Coast Guard. Chris Pine stars as Bernie Webber, a member of the of Coast Guard of Chatham Massachusetts who is a stickler for following the rules. After falling in love with local girl Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger), he looks for the approval of the Coast Guard stations Captain, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). But before he can get the answer he wants he is sent out to sea on a dangerous rescue mission. The focus of the rescue mission is the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker ripped in two, with over 30 people stranded on the wreckage in the middle of sea.
Meanwhile the surviving crew of the S.S. Pendleton are arguing over the best course of action for survival. After the lifeboats are smashed in the water, engineer Ray Sybert takes the lead and devises a plan to keep what is left of the tanker above water. Using makeshift tools and equipment the crew try to guide the ship towards a reef that should keep the ship steady and give them time for rescue. Both sides of this story are most certainly remarkable, and they are executed in fine Disney true story fashion. We have high emotional stakes at play against a backdrop of a perilous storm. We also have lead characters who everybody else doubts, that must rise to the occasion in order to survive. When the going gets tough, the musical score gets loud and emphatic, and in the downtime between such moments it’s easy going and light. They’re fairly standard tactics but it just about works.
What tends to bog films down of this nature are overplayed theatrics, though the score does it’s over the top best, the lead characters are actually quiet reserved men, and well acted that way. Chris Pine’s Bernie lives life by the rules, not clashing with anybody, and Casey Affleck’s Ray keeps to himself ensuring the ship is in working order. They’re a refreshing change from the confident hero, and ensure a level of realism remains with the film. In fact I’d argue that these are two of Chris Pine’s finest hours (see what I did there…) to date. Supporting the leads is a very strong cast that includes Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Graham McTavish, Kyle Gallner, Josh Stewart and John Ortiz, but apart from being thrown about a boat they surprisingly have little to say or do in a film that spans two hours.
Overall The Finest Hours is standard true story fare that does everything that it needs to in order to make it dramatic and emotional without excelling in anything. Despite the deadly nature of the storm, there is little to no feeling of threat to the characters on either side of the story. It doesn’t help that nobody appears to be cold at all in spite of the fact they are soaking wet, in a storm, in the middle of the ocean, at night. The story and events are most certainly amazing, and though the film is decent and does little wrong, it fails to live up to such remarkable events.