Heroes don’t always wear capes or fly through the air. This
Disney production tells the story of an ordinary guy who led three fellow Coast
Guard men on a perilous mission in 1952 that is still considered a
history-making event. The movie works because the leading character (well
played by Chris Pine) doesn’t see himself as heroic. Neither does his
counterpart, a dedicated engineer (nicely underplayed by Casey Affleck) who
tries to find a way to keep his badly damaged oil tanker from sinking off the
coast of Massachusetts in the midst of a ferocious storm.
The Finest Hours could have easily taken
the path of a stoic flag-waver. Instead, it adroitly weaves a personal, human
story into the fabric of a massive action movie. It opens with Pine embarking
on a blind date with a telephone switchboard operator he has spoken to but
never seen (Holliday Grainger), and uses their story as the through-line for
the rest of its narrative. Along the way we get a sense of their tight-knit
waterfront community, the wounds that still remain from an earlier disaster,
the protocol of the modest Coast Guard station, and the relationship of our
protagonist with his comrades in what some consider to be a suicide mission
(including a somewhat sardonic seaman played by Ben Foster).
screenplay, credited to Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, & Eric Johnson (based on
a book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias) is directed with admirable restraint
by Craig Gillespie, who first came to our attention with the sleeper Lars and the Real Girl and more recently
piloted Disney’s Million Dollar Arm.
is paralleled by the sincere performances, which are completely devoid of irony
or distance. They keep The Finest Hours
on track even when it threatens to teeter into corniness. That, and the
genuinely spectacular action sequences that compare to any major film you care
to name—including Star Wars. While
much of the action at sea involves complex CGI work, a great deal of the film
was shot on practical sets provided by production designer Michael Corenblith,
including the inside of the tanker’s engine room, which was 45 feet tall and
built entirely of steel!
The Finest Hours may be too square for
some viewers, but I found it exciting and entertaining. Incidentally, although
it wasn’t filmed in 3-D but converted in post-production, its use is
surprisingly effective and I would recommend seeing it that way if you can.