Past the Popcorn: True Story of The Finest Hours Worth Seeing


by Jeff Walls

Less than a month into 2016 and we have already gotten two movies with the word “hours” in the title that each tell stories about men who put their own lives in danger to save the lives of others.  The first was Michael Bay’s 13 Hours, which told the story of the men who defended a U.S. Diplomatic Mission when it was attacked in Benghazi.  The Finest Hours goes back further in time to tell the story that to this day is considered the greatest small-boat rescue in United States Coast Guard history.  Again, you will find yourself having great respect for these men who voluntarily endanger their lives just by going to work.

The rescue took place in 1952 off the coast of Cape Cod after two separate oil tankers were destroyed by severe weather on the Atlantic.  The movie focuses on one of the tankers, the SS Pendleton.  The rough waves caused the large tanker to split right in half.  The bow section of the ship sunk almost immediately, but the stern section stayed afloat for hours allowing for a rescue attempt.  The crew of four Coast Guardsmen was led by Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard Webber, played by Chris Pine.  Webber just got engaged the night before, but understands his duty as a member of the Coast Guard and goes out into the storm despite the odds being stacked largely against him and his crew.

the-finest-hours-insetOn board the SS Pendleton, the crew is torn as to how best to survive and it generates some friction among them.  Some want to take their chances on the lifeboats, while others just want to sit tight and wait for a rescue that may or may not come.  Reluctantly, engineer Ray Sybert steps in to suggest a unique solution.  Played by Casey Affleck, Sybert suggests that they attempt to run the stern section of the ship aground on a sand bar, hopeful that it will delay the ship’s inevitable sinking.  Without control of the rudder, though, it will take some ingenuity to accomplish this and the crew must work together.

The Finest Hours succeeds as a straight-forward, old-fashioned rescue thriller.  The story is a fascinating one and it is told solidly with some impressive visual effects and an excellent cast.  The only real obvious flaw in the visual effects is that it is difficult to maintain the 3D effect when water is splashing onto the camera lens.

The role is something of a unique one for Chris Pine.  Although he is again playing a hero, his character of Bernie Webber is far from the confident, brash Captain Kirk he plays in the Star Trek movies.  Webber is meek, quiet, and carries his hat in his hand.  He’s a hero because he has to be, not because he sets out to be.  To further demonstrate this, Pine is usually photographed in a very bland, straight-forward way.  In contrast, almost every time Casey Affleck appears on screen, it seems as if the director told his cinematographer that he wanted to see a hero shot.  Low-angles and close-ups are often used on the actor, who is usually wet and covered with grease, looking stoically just past the camera.  Affleck’s character is also a hero in this story, but he does take a back seat to Pine in the final act, so it seems strange that he would get a more heroic treatment, at least visually.

For the most part, the movie is consistently thrilling and entertaining, but it does lose some momentum towards the end.  The excitement in the story comes from the small rescue boat’s journey to reach the tanker, while the most exciting scenes on the tanker come as they are trying to get themselves in position to be rescued.  As such, once the rescue boat reaches the tanker, the action settles and becomes a little anti-climactic.

The Finest Hours is a good movie that tells a story worth telling.  It also further makes us appreciate the men and women who put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others.  It is worth seeing for that reason alone.

The Finest Hours opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? It’s reportedly gonna happen! Until then, eat local before you go!

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