“The Finest Hours” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux


“The Finest Hours” is a suspenseful and inspiring account of a real-life rescue mission undertaken by the brave men of the United States Coast Guard in 1952. Presented in IMAX 3D, we are placed firmly among the seemingly-doomed souls aboard the SS Pendleton (after she was broken in half during an uncompromising storm off the coast of Nantucket), and gasp and flinch accordingly with each riveting scene set upon the high seas. Unfortunately, being a Disney property, the powers-that-be insisted upon building up the romantic storyline of the main character, instead of focusing solely on heroics. As a result, what would have otherwise been an extraordinary film of a little-known search and rescue event in our nation’s proud history, has to contend with a parallel storyline involving the main character’s fiancé that does it no favors.

At the onset of our film, Bernard “Bernie” Webber (Chris Pine) appears to be a normal, everyday “Joe” in early 1950’s New England. He’s a little shy when it comes to double dates, especially those of the blind variety that he attends with his pal Mel (Beau Knapp). Luckily for Bernie, he just so happens to come face-to-face with the girl of his dreams – the lovely Miriam (Holliday Grainger of “The Borgias,” “Cinderella”) and the two embark on a truncated Disney romance which culminates with Miriam asking Bernie to marry her (!) in the small lighthouse town of Chatham, Massachusetts. (I know this sounds like it could have been its own film and ended right there, do not worry, that’s just the first ten minutes!) You see, Bernie Webber is no ordinary guy, he’s a skilled lifeboat pilot in the United States Coast Guard. And before he has the chance to ask his unpopular commander, Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), for permission (?) for this personal life event (the script goes out of its way from here on out convincing us that it’s only a formality), the base receives a distress call from a ship that has just broken in half during a monstrous storm at sea. Thus our story truly begins.

With its Captain on the unfortunate end of the break, the remaining crew members of the Pendleton, led by the normally soft-spoken engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), must race against the clock and attempt to steer what’s left of their ship onto a sandbar before it sinks. Equipped with nothing more than a horn, will it be enough to attract help for their life or death situation? Meanwhile, Cluff gives the order to Boatswain’s Mate First Class Webber, to attempt a rescue after assembling a team of volunteers (good time Mel couldn’t go because he was sick with the flu): Seamen Richard Livesey (Ben Foster) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro of “The Big Short”), and Engineman Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner). The four men set out in a 36-foot motor lifeboat to find the Pendleton. With categorical waves that eliminate their compass, and the memory of a failed mission in the back of Bernie’s mind, can these men truly defy the odds and the unflinching hand of Mother Nature, to arrive and save the crew before it’s too late? Featured amongst the crew of the Pendleton are many recognizable faces such as Graham McTavish (the “Hobbit” trilogy), Michael Raymond-James (“True Blood”), and John Ortiz.

One thing I loved about this film was its attention to detail amidst the intricate workings of the Pendleton’s interior as well as the visual effects that highlighted its extremely faulty exterior, both of which deserve recognition. Never once did I stop to think that the horrific events in this film were not really taking place. The action is that realistic and intense. Which is all the more disturbing knowing that Disney padded the proceedings with unnecessary interludes involving Miriam and her quest to cope with the danger that Bernie is facing. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand a committed fiancé having concern about her future husband in the face of real danger, but her whiny character contrasts with the action on the high seas, and frankly it gets to be annoying. Am I arguing for a Disney historical adventure film to focus strictly on some of the most riveting disaster sequences in recent memory? Absolutely, as the scenes that center on Miriam slow the film’s pace down considerably.

While I believe Chris Pine was more than adequate in the lead role (especially as the Captain of the rescue mission), his Bostonian accent takes a little getting used to. Sadly, nothing can prepare us for the horrendous southern drawl attempted by Eric Bana, for no other reason than to prove to the viewer that the man is out of place in New England. And I also have to wonder why a terrific actor such as Ben Foster is given absolutely nothing to do. Sure, as Webber’s right hand man, he appears onscreen enough and receives third billing. Too bad, his performance primarily consists of either affirming nods or disapproving glances towards Webber! I did, however, enjoy the casting of two great young actors – John Magaro and Kyle Gallner – as the other two heroes, whose characters also happen to provide some welcome moments of tension-breaking, mild comic relief.

What is truly amazing is that all of the negatives that I just pointed out doesn’t really detract from a film that commands our attention strictly with its sequences aboard the respective ships.      Directed by Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl,” “Million Dollar Arm), “The Finest Hours” undoubtedly has its “finest moments” when it embraces the relationships, both codependent and contentious, among the men on either side of the mission.

**1/2 (two and a half out of four stars)

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