FINEST HOURS, THE
In February 1952, the Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts was busy helping local fishermen protect their boats from a wild storm when they learn that the oil tanker Fort Mercer was in trouble. Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), the recently appointed station chief, immediately dispatches his best men to aid in the larger rescue effort already in progress. When Cluff learns that a second tanker, the Pendleton, is also damaged and is now adrift in nearby waters, he orders coxswain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to quickly assemble a crew and take out the wooden 36 ft CG36500 lifeboat to look for survivors. Webber and three men set off on the perilous mission with bleak prospects, at best, and before they even clear the Chatham Harbor, the boat's windshield and compass are destroyed. Yet the men persevere, and despite hurricane-force winds, 60-foot waves, frigid temperatures and zero visibility, miraculously locate the Pendleton and rescue 32 of its 33 men in the midst of the turbulent storm. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It could have been an exploitative disaster movie with all focus on the blizzard-besieged rescue boat against the elements, but the filmmakers rescued it by making us care for the men and giving us solid emotional reasons to invest our guts in the film. The result is a gripping, fact based sea drama not dissimilar to The Perfect Storm (2000).
The perhaps surprise casting of Chris Pine as the young coxswain, Bernie, who leads the small crew, pays off handsomely, with Pine delivering a nuanced and appealing characterization. Ben Foster is terrific as a prickly offsider with history between them, and Casey Affleck makes a marvelous reluctant hero on the broken and capsizing tanker, which he has to somehow maneuver while waiting for rescue - which the 33 men still alive don't even know is coming.
The facts of the story are well documented, yet this is the first cinematic telling of it, and it is done with care and compassion. Holliday Grainger (excellent) plays Bernie's sweetheart, Miriam, just engaged, and understandably agitated about the mission; she confronts Cluff (Eric Bana, great) to order them back before it's too late. There is much in this sequence that deserves attention. Firstly, Miriam is a strong young lady who defies the early 50s gender role of women, being determined but not aggressive. Cluff, meanwhile, is new to the job and not 100% confident of acceptance here. The confrontation has to be delicately balanced in both dramatic and character terms - and it is, which provides additional emotional oomph to the heart of the film.
The historical accuracy will silence any sceptics who claim such a thing couldn't happen - and adds admiration to our entertainment, not least during the extraordinary scenes at sea. The feisty little Coast Guard boat (still on display) and its crew take us on a wild and deadly journey in what is the daily job of the Coast Guard (perhaps not always in such hectic blizzard conditions). I like the absence of heroics and overstatement; the action says it all.
The technical accomplishment is so effective we never question it, just as Carter Burwell's inventive and complex score is hardly noticeable, to its great credit.
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FINEST HOURS, THE (M)
CAST: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, Eric Bana, John Ortiz, John Magaro, Graham McTavish, Kyle Gallner, Michael Raymond-James, Beau Knapp, Josh Stewart, Abraham Benrubi,
PRODUCER: Dorothy Aufiero, James Whitaker
DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie
SCRIPT: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (book by Casey Sherman, Michael J. Tougias)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Javier Aguirresarobe
EDITOR: Tatiana S. Riegel
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Corenblith
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Disney
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 3, 2016