By Laurie Coker
Countless films have been made about the American armed forces, even the Coast Guard, but rarely to our coastal guardians get the screen time afford the other services. The Finest Hours, starring Chris Pine and Casey Affleck in the most notable performances of their careers, is based on the true story, as chronicled in the Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias’ book, of a daring Coast Guard rescue off the New England seaboard when an oil tanker, literally breaks in two and four lone coast guard seaman risk it all to rescue the tanker’s survivors.
Pine and Affleck drive this film, especially through the it’s few dull and predictable moments. That said, these occasions don’t take away from the brilliant story behind the daring rescue during the brutal winter of 1952 – in a cruel twist, not one, but two tankers broke apart on that fateful night. Pine performance is particularly pleasing given that Bernie Webber, the man who leads the team of rescuers, is far different than other characters he’s played, and he does so with an awesome “awe shucks” lovability. Affleck as the tanker’s engineer Ray Sybert, too, offers up a quality performance, subtle and equally mesmerizing. Their stories run parallel as one man works to save what remains of the tanker’s crew, and the other, a normally by-the-book sailor, breaks the rules and pushes the envelope to defy the odds and bring back 33 men on a 36 foot boat built to carry less than half that number.
Director Craig Gillespie captures the violent nature of the sea and the relentlessness of the waves and wind, with seamless CGI. The water sequences are remarkable, stunning, intense and wild. The monstrous waves and the wicked storm framed by frigid weather are breathtakingly realistic. Webber and his three man crew (played by Ben Foster, John Magara and Kyle Gallner) take a beating, as Mother Nature bashes their boat about and rolls and drives it deeply into the surf – tossing the men about like dolls, breaking glass, ditching the compass and at one point even flooding the engine. By all accounts 37 more men should have been lost at sea after the huge tanker came apart, but two men, an engineer who knew how to drive half a ship and a seaman, who honored his oath to safe lives, made coastguard history that night.
If fault is to be found, it lies in the storytelling, as per scriptwriters Eric Johnson, Paul Tamasy, and Scott Silver, who spend a bit too much time on Webber’s fiancé (Holliday Grainger), and afford her more credit in bringing back her man than I am sure she deserves. This is not to discount the wives of brave men like Webber and Sybert and his crew, many who did lose their lives, but there are a few unnecessary moments and a couple of silly lines in an otherwise awesome film. The film’s finale falters a tad too, but only in that it feels forced and a touch anti-climatic given the gut wrenching events that transpire. Gillespie doesn’t let the film fall into toughs of clichés that can plague based-on-true story movies, keeping the courageous rescue and powerful action scenes at the film’s forefront.
The Finest Hours might have been perfect had the superfluous romance been kept at bay, but then Eric Bana, who has little to do but fend off the accusations and pleas of Webber’s woman, wouldn’t have had a job. Thankfully, time spent on the sea takes precedence over any land-based meanderings. The story’s leading men, for all their personal quietude, rage stronger than the storm, especially Pine’s Bernie Webber and with Gillespie at the helm, The Finest Hour’s faults are forgiven. I am placing a B+ in my grade book.