Heroes emerge in times of adversity and in Disney’s resolutely old-fashioned drama of gallantry at sea, the unlikely hero is a shy 1950s coast guard, who is a stickler for the regulations and willingly risks his life because the job demands it.
“They say you gotta go out. They don’t say you gotta come back in,” he observes sombrely.
The challenge faced by this selfless boatswain’s mate in The Finest Hours seems insurmountable: to rescue the crew of a stricken oil tanker during the biggest storm to hit the east coast in a 36-feet long motor lifeboat that could splinter on the roiling Atlantic Ocean.
Director Craig Gillespie captains the water-logged heroics with a steady hand, ebbing and flowing between action sequences aboard the tanker and lifeboat, and agonizing moments of regret back on Cape Cod as friends and family wait for news of the seamen.
It’s a classic tale of triumph against adversity and Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson’s script confidently plucks heartstrings as it seems the coast guard crew will fall to the might of Mother Nature.
Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) meets strong-willed and sassy telephone exchange operator Miriam Penttinen (Holliday Grainger) in November 1951.
Their whirlwind romance leads to a marriage proposal, but coastguard regulations dictate that Bernie must ask the permission of Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), who oversees the lifeboat station at Chatham, Massachusetts.
On the day Bernie nervously seeks approval, the oil tanker SS Pendleton breaks in half during a fierce storm, condemning the 41 survivors to a grim fate.
Long-serving engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) galvanises the terrified crew and attempts to buy them some time by grounding the Pendleton on a reef.
Meanwhile, Cluff orders Bernie to assemble a three-strong team and attempt a rescue in a CG 36500 lifeboat.
Bernie selects Seaman Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Seaman Ervin Maske (John Magaro) and Engineman Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) for the suicide mission.
Miriam races to the lifeboat station and implores Cluff to spare her fiance.
“Please call him back in,” she pleads, to no avail.
The Finest Hours pays rousing tribute to the brave crew, who risked everything on February 18, 1952.
Pine delivers a winning performance as a man of unshakeable purpose and moral convictions, who inspires others to follow his reckless lead into the eye of a digitally rendered storm.
You can almost feel the icy chill emanating from the screen in 3D as Bernie and his crew crash into monstrous waves in the dark, without a compass to guide them.
Composer Carter Burwell’s stirring orchestral score heightens every emotion, reaching a crescendo over the end credits with real-life photographs that should have audiences choking back the tears.