FILM REVIEW – THE FINEST HOURS. With Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana. Written by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson. Directed by Craig Gillespie. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril. 117 minutes.
As we give thanks that the impact of last week’s winter storm was largely south of Massachusetts, THE FINEST HOURS makes us look at blizzard conditions as something other than icy roadways and digging out. It is the true story of a rescue at sea in the winter of 1952 that is, rightly, recognized as one of the greatest rescue operations ever.
The film starts on a personal level as we meet Bernie Webber (Chris Pine). As presented here, he’s shy around women. He’s so shy, in fact, that Miriam (Holliday Grainger) ends up asking him to get married. Webber is being established as someone who is risk averse but who is about to throw caution, literally, to the winds.
Two oil tankers have been seriously damaged by rough seas during what looks like a particularly savage nor’easter. At first it is believed to be only one, and most of the vessels sent to rescue the survivors go to it. Then it is learned that there is a second vessel and Webber and three crew members are sent out on a mission that seems doomed to failure. Assuming they can survive the treacherous waters–including 70-foot high waves–how many people can they save on a single small boat?
Meanwhile, we see the surviving crew of the oil tanker. In a breathtaking and frightening shot, the crew learns why the captain is not responding to questions from the engine room: the entire front half of the tanker has been torn away and sunk. With no clear chain of command and conflicting views as to whether they should wait to be rescued or attempt to use the life boats, engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) takes charge. Like Webber, he is not a traditionally heroic figure and, in fact, is not the most popular person on the tanker. However, his clear-headedness keeps them going in hopes they will be found before it is too late.
This is powerful drama, and the filmmakers put us right in the midst of it, from the Coast Guard ship to the doomed tanker to the people back on shore awaiting word. Even as you anticipate how it will turn out (the title is kind of a giveaway), there is suspense as each obstacle has to be faced. Pine is unexpectedly apt as the reluctant hero (although the movie star handsome Pine worrying about his looks before his big date seems a bit contrived). There’s none of the boldness he brings to his role of Captain Kirk in the “Star Trek” movies. This is a man who’s going to do his best while not being certain if it will be good enough.
Affleck is a fine and subtle actor, often overshadowed by his brother Ben, but who keeps turning in solid performances. He plays Sybert as a man who has no life outside of the enginge room suddenly being called upon not only to jury-rig what they need to keep half a ship moving, but also serving as a calming influence in the midst of a crisis. Back on shore, Grainger walks a different tightrope, as an independent woman put in the traditional role of waiting for her man to return. She manages to do so without relinquishing what made her stand out in the first place.
“The Finest Hours” tells us more about heroism in real life than many a Hollywood fiction, making it the first really interesting movie of 2016.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.