In Craig Gillespie’s imagining of the true events of 1952, you feel the snowy, stormy winter day with a sea and waves so harsh that they split not one, but two oil tankers in half. The Finest Hours recreates what is considered the greatest small boat rescue mission in American Coast Guard history.
With information coming through on just one ship being split in two, most of the rescue ships go after the tanker Fort Mercer. But when it is discovered that a second tanker has also been split, one lone boat with a crew of four men goes through treacherous waters and a frightening blizzard to rescue the men stranded on the SS Pendleton.
Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) puts duty before his own life to go head on into the storm and cross a sandbar with gigantic vertical waves that threaten to overturn the boat at any time. The crew of Richard (Ben Foster), Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Maske (John Magaro) has to place their faith in Webber, that he can get them through the high waves and choppy waters.
In the middle of the sea, assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is desperately trying to keep one half of the Pendelton, with more than 20 survivors still aboard, afloat.
On shore, Webber’s feisty fiancée Miriam (Holliday Grainger) confronts the station chief (Eric Bana) and questions his prudence in letting Webber go over “the bar”. As she awaits news from the boat, Miriam encounters random townsfolk, including a woman whose husband was lost at sea. This creates a diversion from the rivetting and dramatic rescue scenes. The sequence when Webber is navigating the enormous waves at the Chatham Bar is nail-biting stuff.
Pine embraces the part of a squeaky clean, insecure but steadfast coast guard. Affleck is a fine counterbalance as the methodical, thinking and calm solution finder. Both the hubs of drama – the ship and the coast guard outpost – have their share of stereotypes – the rebel, the rookie, the strongman and the outsider. Eric Bana has a small but effective part as the hard-nosed chief of station. Grainger is period perfect.
This is a by-the-book disaster-rescue saga with elevated moments of drama. The ocean scenes leave you feeling a little bit seasick, but in awe of the bravery of these men. The 3D is perfunctory.