Saturday, February 13, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Finest Hours (2016)

Walt Disney Pictures has an excellent track record with "inspirational" films. They have tended to be sports films, most recently MILLION DOLLAR ARM (2014) and MCFARLAND, USA (2015). Disney's newest movie, THE FINEST HOURS (2016), is a completely different type of film, but like the sports films it leaves the viewer exiting the theater feeling better than when going in.

THE FINEST HOURS was directed by Craig Gillespie, who also headed up MILLION DOLLAR ARM; the screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson was based on the book THE FINEST HOURS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE U.S. COAST GUARD'S MOST DARING SEA RESCUE by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman.

A terrible storm off New England in the winter of 1952 splits not one but two aging oil tankers in half. The Coast Guard's Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and three other men (Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, and John Magaro) are sent out in a small boat to look for survivors. It's basically a suicide mission, as any of the giant waves they hit after leaving the harbor could sink them.

Somehow the Coast Guard boat makes it out of the harbor to open sea, where 32 men are struggling to keep half of the Pendleton tanker afloat, under the direction of engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck). (The other half of the ship, including the captain, sank immediately.) Sybert's unorthodox plan includes finding shoals to ground the ship on and keep it from going under, at least for a while, in order to buy time for a rescue.

The Coast Guard boat miraculously finds the needle in a haystack which is half the Pendleton, but there are more problems ahead, such as the fact that there are 32 men in need of rescue, and the Coast Guard boat should only take on 12...

As one might guess, it's a nerve-wracking film, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's extremely well acted with sincere, understated performances; the lack of histrionics plays well against the background of the mind-boggling waves the men must survive.

Based on the end credits, there was plenty of CGI involved, but I wasn't constantly aware of of the computer effects, which is all too common in this day and age.  Sets such as the tanker engine room were impressive. More importantly, the director and cinematographer conjure up real drama in the way they shot something as simple as the men on the tanker yelling from man to man to man, translating information from the deck down to the engine room.

Chris Pine is one of my favorite stars of recent years, and he's natural as a quietly heroic man determined to do his assigned job despite enormous personal risk. Pine is on screen much of the time, and it's a compelling performance.

Holliday Grainger (Anastasia in last year's fine CINDERELLA) is likewise well cast as Bernie's girlfriend Miriam. She's a strong, forthright young woman who "meets cute" with Bernie over the phone, as she's a telephone operator!

Affleck (Virgil in the OCEAN'S 11 movies) is equally good as Sybert, a loner most of the crewmen don't like, but they respect his knowledge. (In an interview Affleck said he approached his quiet character as a "librarian on an oil tanker.") Graham McTavish (Tommy Holiday in CREED) also registers strongly as a senior crewman who backs Sybert taking command from the outset.

THE FINEST HOURS runs 117 minutes. It was filmed by Javier Aguirresarobe. The supporting cast includes Eric Bana, John Ortiz, Michael Raymond-James, and Rachel Brosnahan.

Parental Advisory: THE FINEST HOURS is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of peril." Bottom line, if your child can handle the suspenseful storyline, there's nothing else objectionable, and the film tells a great story of leadership and courage under extreme pressure.

For more on this film, please visit reviews by Leonard Maltin ("adroitly weaves a personal, human story into the fabric of a massive action movie...exciting and entertaining") and the L.A. Times' Kenneth Turan ("a pip of a true story").

An account of the actual Pendleton rescue is on the U.S. Coast Guard website.

Trailers may be found here and here.

Previous reviews of Chris Pine films: BOTTLE SHOCK (2008), UNSTOPPABLE (2010), THIS MEANS WAR (2012), RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (2012), and JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014).


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