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The Finest Hours—Action and Adventure on a Grand Scale

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).

Casey Affleck-Finest Hours-680

Photo by Claire Folger – Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc

The 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.

His approach 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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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