The Finest Hours is another entry in both the “based on a true story” and “disaster at sea” genres, and does pretty well at both. It’s inaccurate to compare the film to The Perfect Storm, In the Heart of the Sea, or even Titanic; its nearest relative, in terms of intensity and pacing, is the classic Das Boot. Director Craig Gillespie goes more for tension and a slow build-up of dread instead of the typical action movie pace, and it works very well.
1. What’s it about?
In 1952 a storm hit the eastern seaboard with enough force to tear two oil tankers in half. Most of the local Coast Guard crew has already set out to rescue the men of the Fort Mercer when news of the Pendleton comes in, leaving four men in a 36-foot boat to carry out the rescue, led by soft-spoken Bernie Webber (Chris Pine). On what’s left of the Pendleton, Engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) thinks he can keep the crippled half-vessel from sinking long enough for the Coast Guard to find them, but he has to first convince his own crew to work with him. Meanwhile, Webber’s fiancee, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), tries to convince Warrant Officer Cluff (Eric Bana) to call off the rescue attempt before Bernie and his crew are killed in the storm.
2. Will my kids like it?
Older kids might like it. This isn’t a typical action picture with a lot of “roller coaster” sequences, but despite that, it’s an intense film. The sense of danger and impending doom escalates steadily, and there’s no action hero with oiled biceps tossing off one-liners while blowing things up to reassure you that everything’s going to be okay. The heroes here are quiet, calm and smart, approaching their life-or-death situations rationally, but there’s an uncertainty, a feeling that any or all of them can die at any moment. It’s not a popcorn-munching thrill ride, it’s a human story with human drama, and that may be too frightening for very young children.
3. Will I like it?
Do you like simple human drama about ordinary people rising to a challenge, doing extraordinary things, and succeeding through intelligence and courage without bravado? If so, you’ll like The Finest Hours. All of the actors deliver solid performances, anchored by Chris Pine and Casey Affleck. Pine’s Bernie is a man so cautious he frets that his blind date won’t like him because of the shirt he chose, yet he has the determination to push forward on what everyone else thinks is a suicide mission. Affleck’s Ray is also a reluctant hero, and he proves again that he is much more than just Ben Affleck’s brother; he delivers a compelling and nuanced performance as a man pushed into a leadership role and determined to see it through. Ben Foster offers solid support as the first crew member to volunteer for the mission, and Holliday Grainger gives Mirian a spine of steel.
4. Is the rating appropriate?
It’s rated PG-13, and while there’s no gore, no sexual content, little to no profanity, no gunplay or acts of violence, it deserves the rating. Most action movies have a set of tropes that cue the viewer that it’s all just pretend; the music, the hero’s clever quips, everything about it tells you it’s supposed to be fun and there are no consequences to any of the carnage you’ll see. The Finest Hours doesn’t do that. Everything from the score to the actors’ performances is grounded in reality and a sense that nobody is safe; anybody can die at any moment. That can make for unnerving viewing. I suspect it’s rated PG-13 for language because of how often somebody in the audience will say “oohhhh f******!”
5. How are the special effects?
Most of the effects involve the storm at sea, the boats being tossed about, the monster waves. The effects studio that did these sequences also did the sea effects in Life of Pi, and the technology has only improved. It’s only the knowledge that Disney is not going to risk the lives of a lot of expensive actors that reminds you that this is all artificial. It looks real on the screen.
6. Is worth seeing it in 3D?
It’s plenty intense without the 3D, and for a lot of the film it’s barely noticeable, especially the many close-ups of people being pummeled by the waves. There are a few effective shots, but it’s not necessary for either the story or the experience.
7. When’s the best time for a bathroom break?
The film is just under two hours long, so you may not need one. About an hour in, when Ray Sybert says ” I don’t see much point in sitting around talking about it,” you have about five minutes of an action scene that doesn’t contain any major plot developments.
8. Do I need to stay after the credits?
No. All of the movie is in the movie. There is a nice montage of historic photos and news clippings about the real event during the first half of the credits, so you may want to stay for that part.