In real life, the U.S. Coast Guard does a lot of useful and even heroic stuff, but rarely do its exploits garner the big-screen treatment. Its last big cinematic splash was a decade ago, with The Guardian. But here comes The Finest Hours, a based-on-real-events actioner featuring a handful of hardy, salty men.
In the winter of 1952, a powerful storm hits near Cape Cod, with seas so powerful that two nearby oil tankers split in half. Our tale concerns the Pendelton and the 30-some men left in the half of the ship containing the engine; the other half, with the captain and the radio, sinks.
Dispatched from the Coast Guard station in a truly tiny rescue craft are: plucky (and newly engaged) Webber (Chris Pine), his right-hand man (Ben Foster) and two other able bodies. Meanwhile, the men on the Pendelton grudgingly rally behind crewman Sybert (Casey Affleck), whose plan is to run the half-ship into a sand bar and hope for the best. If you’ve seen the movie poster, you already know that despite darkness, lack of navigation and communication tools, gigantic waves and hellacious weather, these two sets of square-jawed, can-do men find each other.
Like a lighthouse in a storm, Craig Gillespie’s film shows flashes of being decent entertainment. Affleck and Pine bring sturdiness to their largely pro-form roles. The digitally created wild weather has its moments of awe, though in other scenes, it is quite ridiculous. And there are hints of what might have been dramatic material better fleshed out, such as the fraught lives of those left on land, and the dynamics of the hierarchical organizations when circumstances upend the playbook. Finest Hours also has a big, emotional symphonic score which is distracting; why not go with the freaky and tension-building sounds of howling storm and a sinking ship buffeted by waves?
But if you need a film the whole family can see and feel good about, this Coast Guard rescue was one for the history books. Be sure to sit through the credits to see the archival photos of the real-life rescuers and rescued. In 3-D, in select theaters.