During a massive storm off the Massachusetts coast in the winter of 1952, a tanker literally splits in two, with only half of the ship remaining afloat.
A Coast Guard boat coxswain from Coast Guard Station Chatham, Mass., is told to put together a crew and take a 36-foot surf boat out into the monster storm to render assistance.
“The Finest Hours” is the film that retells this rescue story, based on the 2010 book of the same name written by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman.
It is also the finest tribute to our noble service that this retired warrant boatswain has ever seen.
Set in the early 1950s in Chatham, the period setting is a pleasure to behold for all nostalgia buffs. Chris Pine plays Boatswain’s Mate Bernie Webber, the reluctant hero of the story, who falls in love with a local girl, Miriam, played by Holliday Grainger.
While the performances of these two leads are very good, the actor who really nails his Coast Guard character is Ben Foster, playing Seaman Richard Livesey. His quiet performance while transiting the Chatham bar is so realistic it made me lean over to my daughter and say that I think this guy must have done this before.
Although the vast majority of this Hollywood adaptation is quite believable, the only critique I have is that Miriam would have been escorted off the station the first time she demands the commanding officer make the boat return, not the 10th. (In reality, Miriam was not at the station during the rescue, but home with the flu.)
Meanwhile, aboard the floating half of the tanker, Pendelton, the crew struggles with trying to stay afloat, as well as with a leadership vacuum following the loss of their captain. Another reluctant leader emerges, an engineer played by Casey Affleck, who delivers a compelling performance as the humble and competent pragmatist looked upon to lead in times of crisis. The casting and performances of the tanker crew is excellent, so much so that I was able to overlook the jolly cook who passes the time forcing show tune sing-alongs.
The Coast Guard doesn’t get much screen time, and when it does, it usually involves helicopters. For those of us who spent our careers on the surface, this film is well worth the wait. The special effects used to recreate the seas are spectacular. They are so good, in fact, that just watching can be draining.
The Coast Guard has many missions and affects society in many different ways. It is often overlooked or misunderstood. Sometimes it’s a good thing to reflect upon the Coast Guard’s core mission of search and rescue, and how ordinary men and women can complete extraordinary feats when their work is aligned with their core values. And there is no finer way to do that than to go see "The Finest Hours."