The Finest Hours

Feb 3, 2016

Yes, it's formulaic and nostalgic, but it has a sincerity and affectionatly low-key attitude.

The Finest Hours

Image compliments of IMDb.

Grade: B

Director: Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm)

Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasay, Eric Johnson (allThe Fighter).

Cast: Chris Pine (Star Trek into Darkness), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)


Runtime: 117 min.

by John DeSando

At this dead-movie time of year with a heroic story! It has to be formulaic and corny. And The Finest Hours, a true-life-inspired story of the Coast Guard rescue in 1952 of 32 survivors of a storm-wrecked oil tanker off Cape Cod, has those clichéd elements but something else I appreciated—understated heroes and at times harrowing depiction of destructive high seas and humans’ herculean struggle set against it.

Chris Pine as Bernie Webber commands the rescue boat through the tempestuous storm to save 32 of the 33 tanker crew. The interesting take on this character is his humility, a lowered-eyes approach that says whatever heroics he does are only his duty. Yet, at several points he makes decisions, even countering orders from above, that grow out of an understanding of the currents and winds of Cape Cod. At no point does he imitate his swashbuckling captain from Star Trek

Equally underplayed is Casey Affleck (yes, that brother) as the chief engineer of the tanker, called to duty when split off from his captain and ready to navigate his half of the split ship to safety by grounding the boat. Contrary to the reactions of the other crew members, his instincts about grounding are inspired.  But director Craig Gillespie never lets Affleck play up the glamour. It’s survival, Baby, and no more.

Although romance is an essential ingredient on such renowned disaster films as Titanic and Poseidon, here the interaction of Bernie and Miriam (Holliday Grainger) has a moderate pace in a lore that demands the hero have a wife or love suffering on land. Unusually, Miriam is far stronger that most waiting-in-the wings loves as she storms the main command area of the Guard to challenge the rank and file and officers. Like her love, strong but not strident.

That romance takes too long to set up at the opening (they fall in love at a dance), strictly by the disaster film playbook, but Pine and Grainger are so cute together that the pain is mitigated.  The cheesy process shots (the sea background as the camera concentrates inside a pilot house, for instance) just look old fashioned (you know, the couple chatting in the open car while the countryside slides by as if in a diorama). Where’s high-class CGI when you need it?

The Finest Hours is not the finest rescue movie you will ever see, but at this dead-zone time of year, it is divertingly enjoyable and has a turn or two in the right direction of heroism and awe-inspiring sea.

Who order'd that their longing's fire

Should be, as soon as kindled, cool'd?

Who renders vain their deep desire?--

A God, a God their severance ruled;

And bade betwixt their shores to be

The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.   

To Marguerite by Matthew Arnold

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at