“The Finest Hours”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense peril
Running time: 117 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
On Feb. 18, 1952, one of the worst nor’easters in history hit New England. In fact, the roiling waters off Cape Cod were so severe that a couple of oil tankers totally split in half.
While the SS Fort Mercer was able to issue an urgent S.O.S., the SS Pendleton’s fore section was swallowed too quickly by the ocean to broadcast a distress call. The latter’s captain went down with the shortwave radio, too, leaving 34 sailors in the stern with no idea whether the world was even aware of their perilous plight.
As luck would have it, a tow truck driver (Matthew Maher) not only spotted a light from the Pendleton listing off the coast of Chatham, but he had the wherewithal to report it to the authorities immediately. Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), the officer in charge of the local Coast Guard station, was a World War II vet who’d seen combat in the Pacific theater. He didn’t hesitate to order a rescue attempt, despite the blizzard’s frigid temperatures and gale force winds.
That unenviable task fell to Bosun’s Mate Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) who hastily assembled a crew composed of Seamen Richard Livesey (Ben Foster) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro), as well as Engineman Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner). The rag-tag team left the harbor aboard a modest motorized lifeboat seating only a dozen and offering scant protection against the elements.
It would take a yeoman’s effort just to reach the sinking Pendleton, given that the tiny Coast Guard cutter encountered waves as high as 70 feet-tall out on the open seas. Moreover, Webber was further frustrated by the loss of his compass to one of the tsunamis.
Meanwhile, the remaining sailors on the Pendleton were doing their best to keep what was left of the ship afloat. With the skipper and his other officers already swept to watery deaths down in Davy Jones locker, a new leader emerged in Engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), a salty dog with nerves of steel and a wealth of naval knowledge.
The veteran boat whisperer not only took command of the crew, but determined that survival depended upon the electric pumps functioning long enough to ground the vessel on a sandbar. A third plotline was unfolding back in Chatham where the worried families of the brave Coast Guardsmen, including Bernie’s fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger), were wringing their hands.
Directed by Aussie Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm), “The Finest Hours” is a gripping, seafaring adventure reminiscent of The Perfect Storm (2000). It is also based on a best-seller recounting the real-life exploits of some unsung heroes who rose to the occasion in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
A visually-captivating and remarkably-moving recreation of what, to this day, remains the most daring Coast Guard rescue on record.