THE FINEST HOURS
By: John ‘Doc’ Strange
On November 11, 1951, a member of the Coast Guard stationed on Cape Cod, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), had a date with a woman he had never met face-to-face. They had spent hours on the phone talking about everything under the sun. Bernie made this a double date because he is very quiet and reserved. His best buddy has to convince him to get out of the car and walk in to meet her.
Inside the diner is a beautiful young lady sitting at the counter. He asks her if she is Miriam. She says that she is Miriam’s girlfriend. This makes Bernie’s friend happy. Miriam (Holliday Grainger) is in the phone booth with her back to them. In the huge fur coat it is impossible to say what she really looks like. Then she turns around and her beautiful smile shines out. Bernie gets even shyer as he talks to her.
Over the next few months they grow closer. On February 17, 1952, Miriam decides she needs to take charge and asks Bernie to marry her. He says no. She grabs her coat and runs for the car where the young man catches up with her. He finally gets out that he wants to marry her but he has to ask his commanding officer for permission first.
The next day, February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England. These storms are extremely dangerous to the ships caught in them. On this day, two tankers break apart. The first one, the SS Fort Mercer, was able to radio for help. Almost every Coast Guard ship on that section of the east coast responded.
Several miles away from the SS Fort Mercer, the SS Pendleton was also in trouble. A recent repair weld is threatening to give way under the pressure of their 7 knots of speed. First assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) tries to convince the ship’s captain to slow to three knots to reduce the stress. The captain orders the speed be kept at 7 knots. Reluctantly, Ray obeys the command. But just to be safe, he has members of the engineering crew, including his father, checking the weld constantly.
Suddenly the worst happens as the weld opens up and torrents of water begin pouring into the engineering spaces. Ray gets no response when he attempts to notify the bridge. He sends someone up to tell the captain what has happened. Working his way through the rain and wind the man almost dies when he arrives at the ragged end of the catwalk connecting the engineering spaces in the rear of the ship with the bridge in the front half. He arrives in time to see the front half of the ship sink beneath the waves!
Thankfully on a ship like this the various compartments are sealed and relatively water-tight. Sadly, with the burst seam, the ship is taking on water faster that the pumps can remove it. Many men are close to panicking and plan to abandon ship. Not until the men see what happens to a lifeboat slapped up against the hull of the ship by 60 foot waves do they decide to follow Ray’s lead. Worst of all, the radio is in the part of the ship now on the bottom of the ocean. They don’t have a good way to call for help. All they can do is blow the horn and hope someone hears it.
Ray convinces the men to help him rig a rudder to steer the ship toward shore where, hopefully, they can ground the ship in the shallows or on a sandbar. They figure they have perhaps 4-5 hours to reach this safety before the water in the engine spaces reaches high enough to begin pouring into the engine air intakes.
This weather is bad. For the men stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts it is especially bad. During storms like this, it is impossible to get across the bar, the breakwater protecting the bay. This sort of precludes the station from sending out their boat on rescues. Just the year prior during a storm just like this one, Bernie had been unable to get out of the bay and the sailors aboard a local fishing boat had all perished.
When the relative of one of the previous year’s sailors sees the stricken ship off the coast near his house, he drives to the CG station and tells them about his sighting. The commanding officer of the station, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) has already ordered the only boat available to them that is NOT in the bay to assist in the SS Fort Mercer rescue operation. Now he has to order Bernie to take out their only remaining boat out to attempt the rescue.
Bernie tries to ask his commander for permission to be wed but the man will not give him a chance to ask. He demands that the young sailor get moving.
Forget that no one has ever been able to get a boat past the break in this type of weather, Bernie and his crew of three additional CG sailors must do this. It is their duty to try. Remembering the events of the previous year, Bernie is determined to do it.
Miriam tries to call to see how the request went but does not get an answer. She drives to the CG station to find out what is going on. She makes a nuisance of herself demanding that they recall her man. She is ordered to leave and spins out on the road. Her rescuers do more than save her. In the end, they help her to better understand why the men of the Coast Guard like her Bernie do what they do.
Meanwhile the small Coast Guard boat does the impossible under the guidance of her boat captain, Bernie. His knowledge of the waters gets them over the break in one piece though they go completely underwater multiple times before emerging in the open sea. Getting to open water is only the beginning. During one of the dives the boats compass is lost. They have no idea which way to go. The choice is made by Bernie that he will trust his knowledge of the currents to find the faltering ship.
The actions the Pendleton sailors to save their ship are nothing short of miraculous. Ray Sybert’s ideas were ingenious but it took the entire 33 man crew working together to get the Pendleton to a place where they might be rescued.
The actions of the Coast Guard sailors to find the ship are inspiring. When they then agree with their captain that they rescue everyone when doing so could sink them is inspiring. The boat they are using is designed to hold a maximum load of 12 people. Sadly, the ship’s cook, Tiny Myers (Abraham Benrubi), falls to his death during the rescue. They manage to get 32 of the 33 men off the ship.
The men watch as their ship is pushed back off the sand bar and into the depths of the storm tossed ocean. This crowded ship must now try to find their way back home, still without a compass or any visual landmarks or stars to navigate by. They succeed but once again it is a team effort. This time part of the team includes the people of the town.
This film is based on a true story. At the end of the film we are shown photos of the actual members of both crews and the newspaper articles talking about the heroic rescue. What I truly loved was the information about Bernie and Miriam and their long happy marriage.
I have seen a lot of films in my lifetime. I have seen a loft of films based on true stories. The acting is top-notch and the cinematography is mind-blowing. The only thing I have trouble with is the 3D. I watched half of the film without the glasses because I could honestly not tell the difference. That said, The Finest Hours is an amazing film and I loved it. Whether you see it in 2D or 3D, it will be worth the money you spend on the ticket. It is way too early for it to have a chance but Chris Pine and Casey Affleck have given us the first Oscar-worthy performances of the year here.
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz and Eric Bana
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of peril)
Selig Rating: Full Price
Runtime: 117 Min.
Movie Site: http://movies.disney.com/the-finest-hours
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.