Movie Review: The Finest Hours

By  | 

MV5BNTY1MDU1NzYzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTA0MDQyNzE@._V1_SX214_AL_“We all live or we all die.”

It’s the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history.  During a raging nor’easter in 1952 off the coast of Cape Cod, four coast guards get on a motorboat and set out to rough seas to reach seafarers onboard of a wrecked oil tanker, SS Pendleton.  The storm is so ferocious that it splits two tankers in half.  Meanwhile, the coast guard station is undermanned.  The other crew members have already headed out to rescue the first tanker, SS Fort Mercer, only to find out belatedly that there’s a second one stranded and in jeopardy.

The four-man team is led by a reserved, rule-abider Bennie Webber (Chris Pine, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” “Unstoppable“), following an order to attempt what’s akin to a suicide mission.  What they’re experiencing is staggering.  Freezing rain, violent wind and monstrous waves smash and toss the boat around and into the air. Incredibly, there are times when the boat, engulfed by the perilous waves, is completely submerged under water, only to come up to the surface and ride the surge.  With no compass, lost in the storm, Bernie steers the boat skillfully and somehow finds the sinking vessel.

Aboard the oil tanker, there’s a lot of action and friction.  Whether to take the lifeboat and try to paddle to shore.  Or decide on methods to move the ship in ways that minimize the impact of the damage.  The captain, along with several other sailors, went down with the other half of the ship. Ultimately, leadership falls on Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck, “Gone Baby Gone“), a level-headed engineer, whose strategy to keep the ship afloat and then anchor it down proves to be crucial to the survival of the 30+ sailors.  All hands on deck, it takes precise measurements and coordinated chain of communication to execute the maneuvers.

It’s not smooth-sailing once Bernie and crew encounter the ravaged tanker, however.  There’s no easy way for the survivors to get down from the lofty ship to the motorboat except descending a flimsy ladder amidst the whirlwind storm. Some plunge down to sea and have to swim towards the boat.

All in all, 32 survivors are onboard the rescue boat with a capacity of 12.  Bernie, the man who always walks the straight line, and the one doubted by others because his last rescue effort wasn’t successful, has to make a decision that determines the fate of all those men.  Battling severe frigidity and fatigue, he has to navigate his way back to shore and bring them home safely.

“Disneyesque” romance is integrated into the story.  Bernie’s backstory, from his first meeting with his forward fiancee, Miriam (Holliday Grainger, “Cinderella“).  The drama of it is a bit much in a daring seafaring actioner like this, and at the expense of other characters, the mariners on the ship.  I would have liked to know more about Ray, the de facto captain, since he’s such an instrumental figure.

The ending is such a welcome sight in a snowy night, with headlights beaconing hometown heroes and survivors.  Based on a heroic true story, “The Finest Hours” is realistically terrifying (thanks to impressive special effects and score), but also a miraculous feat that warms the heart.

Copyright (c) 2016.  Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *