|by C.J. Chase
|Not your typical ticket
|C.J.'s new poster
Set in 1952, The Finest Hours is based on a real story of a United States Coast Guard rescue operation. (You can read the full story on the USCG's website here.) I'll never understand how the Disney corp can be so consistently lucky. Had they released this movie last Friday, the Northeastern part of the country would have missed opening weekend because of winter storm Jonas. Instead, this movie about a monster winter storm hitting the Northeast opened...one week later. How do they do that?
The movie's gentle beginning of 1950's era music and romance only lasts for a couple scenes, and then the drama begins. On February 18, 1952, a nor'easter with 60 foot seas and 70 knot (80 mph) winds hit the Cape Cod coast. The first distress call came from the Fort Mercer, an oil tanker that had split in two.
Meanwhile, the oil tanker Pendleton fell victim to the same storm, and it too split in half. Yes, two tankers broke apart in the same violent storm. The Pendelton's bow (front of the ship), containing the captain and the radio room, foundered immediately. The stern (rear), containing the ship's engines, began taking on water faster than the pumps could drain it. How could the remaining men survive on a sinking half of a ship with no captain and no radio?
With most of the local Coast Guardsmen and the best boat having already gone to assist in the Fort Mercer rescue, it was up to soon-to-be-married Boatswain's Mate First Class Bernie Webber (played by Chris Pine) and three volunteers to get their tiny boat "over the bar" (the shifting sandbars that are close enough to the sea's surface they can ground a boat) and race against time to rescue the Pendleton's remaining crew. The local fishermen tell Webber it's a suicide mission and he should "get lost," that is, ride around near the coast for a little bit and then return to the Chatham Lifeboat Station rather than make the attempt to take his boat into the open sea. Should he choose duty or love?
Okay, let me start with my major complaint: the characterization could have been stronger. Several statements hinted at a backstory for both Bernie and his fiancee, but we never got enough details to find out what (in anything) had happened. And then there were a couple things at the very, very end (after the exciting climax) that were forgivable, but a little too Hollywoodish to be believable.
What did I like? There are really two heroes in this movie, both quiet men who rise to the challenge of being leaders during a life-threatening crisis. These are ordinary guys who could be your neighbor or brother but who are propelled to larger-than-life status by the sheer heroism of their actions. The action scenes (which comprise most of the movie) are top notch without being over the top.
The audience at our local theater seemed to really enjoy the show -- probably not surprising since this is a Navy town and the screening was hosted by Navy Federal Credit Union. And while this isn't a particularly funny movie, my husband got a laugh from me when the Pendleton's chief engineer said, "The captain doesn't listen to me anyway" and my husband (who works for the Navy) whispered, "I know that captain."
The Finest Hours is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of people in peril. There is some swearing and a lewd statement from one of the sailors.
I'd say it rates about four lifeboats.
P.S. Every time the seamen spoke about going "over the bar" I kept thinking of this Tennyson poem which uses the image as a metaphor for death. This is published at the end of all collections of his work:
Crossing the Bar
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home!
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;
For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.