The Finest Hours: Not Just Another Disaster Movie (spoiler-free review)

Watching the previews, you might be tempted to think that The Finest Hours is just another disaster film.  Heavy on the disaster, light on story.  That is not the case with this well-directed, character-driven movie by director Craig Gillespie.  The Finest Hours is an intense action film with plenty of heart.  The two main characters, Petty Officer First Class Bernie Webber and Chief Engineer of the Pendleton Raymond Sybert, are convincingly portrayed by Chris Pine and Casey Affleck respectively.  And Bernie’s sweetheart, the feisty and strong-willed Miriam, is portrayed expertly by the beautiful Holliday Grainger.

Finest Hours Teaser Poster
The preview poster for The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours is based on the real life events surrounding the rescue of 32 men by a Coast Guard ship that was only made to hold 12.  Two massive 500-foot oil tankers are split in two off the New England coast.  One of them, the SS Fort Mercer, is able to send out a distress call and immediately ships are dispatched to help in the effort.  When the SS Pendleton is discovered off the coast of Massachusetts, Bernie and a small team of three men are sent out into the fierce storm to aid the other ship.  With no one else to help them and life-threatening danger at every turn, Bernie has to decide how and IF they can help the crew.  Meanwhile, Raymond suddenly finds himself in command of what remains of the ship.  An unlikely leader, Raymond has to find a way to get the crew to come together in the hopes they can survive long enough for help to reach them.

The Finest Hours
Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) struggles to keep his ship, the SS Pendleton, from sinking in Disney’s THE FINEST HOURS, the heroic action-thirller presented in Digital 3D (TM) and IMAX(c) 3D based on the extraordinary true story of the most daring rescue in the history of the Coast Guard.

Gillespie does an admirable job of immersing the audience into the stomach of the movie.  I was grateful to be invited to see an early screening of the film and found it hard not to grip the armrests of my chair to hold myself steady during the intense storm at sea.  The scenes are so stunningly portrayed that it feels like you are experiencing the danger right along with both crews.

Gillespie is able to communicate that danger while never breaking the rhythm of the film.  In a roundtable interview, I asked him about how he was able to do that and he responded, “That was actually editorially and throughout the film the biggest discussion. About the best reference we had was obviously Apollo 13 and my feeling was as long as you stay true to what the technical stuff is, people might not get all of it but the performances let you know the reality of what’s going on.  So I wasn’t as concerned that they [the audience] had to track it all, but we did find out as we started editing where that balance was.”

“Balanced” is a great way to describe this movie.  Filled with action AND heart.  Great story AND acting.  Beautiful cinematography AND score.  The Finest Hours is a movie well worth watching and definitely one to see in a theater – especially one with a really big screen.

The Finest Hours comes out in theaters on January 29th

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