Based on the true story, The Finest Hours features a talented ensemble cast and enough suspense to keep you hooked on the incredible story of survival. The film features a multi-layered plot to give the audience a rich story to enjoy rather than just another sinking ship drama.
Based on The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, The Finest Hours sees directing duties handled by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) with a screenplay from Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson. The film has some beautiful cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe (Blue Jasmine) and production design from Michael Corenblith (Saving Mr. Banks). The film’s cast includes Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, Graham McTavish, Michael Raymond-James, and Eric Bana.
The Finest Hours begins by introducing the audience to all-around nice guy Bernie Webber (Pine), who is in the U.S. Coast Guard and stationed in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. From the opening minutes, it is clear Bernie is just a nice guy and he is also head-over-heels in love with Miriam Pentinen (Grainger) – who he has been talking with on the phone but had yet to meet.
After a night out together (which makes sure to point out Miriam’s fear of the ocean water at night), the film jumps to February, 1952, and the two are still together. At a dance, Miriam asks Bernie to marry her, and after an awkward exchange the two agree to marry in April.
Off the Chatham coast, the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker, is stuck in bad weather as a nor’easter batters the ship with huge waves. In the engine room, senior engineer Ray Sybert is worried a mended portion of the ship’s hull won’t hold and asks the captain for permission to slow the ship down. After being denied, the ship is hit with an even harder wave and breaks in half. With no way to call for help (other than blowing an air horn repeatedly), Sybert must handle the 32 other men still on the boat and figure a way to stay above water long enough for a rescue attempt.
Back on land, Bernie is nervously trying to get the courage to ask his station’s commander, Daniel Cluff (Bana), for permission to marry Miriam – who asked him to marry her the night before. His plans are cut short when the station receives word about the sinking Pendleton. Bernie is ordered by Cluff to put a crew together and take a motor lifeboat CG 36500 to save those men. The order is basically a suicide mission due to the weather conditions and the deadly shoals that surround the area – which are dangerous enough to cross in good weather. Bernie has his own doubts and fears about the order, but won’t dispute it.
Ordered to select a crew, Bernie asks for volunteers and chooses Andrew Fitzgerald (Gallner), Ervin Maske (Magaro), and Richard P. Livesey (Foster) as his crew. Local fishermen (who don’t trust Cluff) tell Bernie to just steer the lifeboat around the harbor for a while rather than attempt the rescue, but Bernie heads out to sea.
The third story of the film follows a panicked Miriam as she discovers Bernie has headed out to sea during the storm, and tries to get him to return. She even arrives at the station to order Cluff to demand Bernie return to harbor.
The rest of the film splits its time between Bernie and his crew attempting to get over the shoals (which costs them their compass) and Sybert trying to make a ship broken in half to not only stay afloat but steer onto a reef to buy the crew every possible second to be saved. Miriam spends her time stranded on the side of the road and with a widow of a sailor who Bernie failed to save during another disaster involving the shoals.
The final act of the film shows the attempted rescue – which includes trying to fit 32 survivors on a boat made for 12 (including Bernie and his crew); finding their way back to the harbor with no compass; and surviving the cold weather.
The Finest Hours is an exciting movie thanks to its talented ensemble cast, great cinematography and production design, and visual effects (which truly make those waves seem massive). Gillespie and company do an excellent job of showing just how daring a rescue attempt like this was, and the determination required for Bernie and his crew to reach the Pendleton and Sybert and his crew to stay alive long enough to be rescued.
Although the film moves at a fairly fast pace, The Finest Hours does slow from time to time thanks to the Miriam storyline. Grainger is a talented actress and Miriam is an important part of the story (as seen at the end and in the bio information during the end credits), but her scenes always seemed to kill any momentum the film had going. Towards the end of the movie, many of her scenes just seemed filler for the running time.
On Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds incredible. It also comes with a wealth of bonus material to take the audience deeper into the real story and show how they brought it to the screen. Special features include Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story – which looks at the town of Chatam and its history; Brotherhood – where the cast members share stories of shooting the movie; Two Crews – Chris Pine and Casey Affleck talk about Bernie Webber and Ray Sybert; What’s Your Finest Hour – a Coast Guard member discusses a rescue; and The Finest Inspiration: The U.S. Coast Guard – which takes a look at the people who put their lives on the line for others. The bonus material also includes deleted scenes.
Although the Finest Hours has some issues that weigh the story down from time to time, Pine, Affleck and the talented cast keep you hooked on the drama happening on the screen.