© The Walt Disney Company (Germany) GmbH

The Finest Hours
U.S.A. 2016

Opening 31 Mar 2016

Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Writing credits: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Casey Sherman, Michael J. Tougias
Principal actors: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger

Nature is a force that judges outside human laws, but rather on their ability to face it down on its own terms. February 18, 1952. Shortly after meeting Miriam (Grainger) and deciding to get married, a whooper of a nor-easter hits the New England seaboard during Bernie Webber’s (Pine) duty watch. He knows it is bad having grown up in Chatham, Massachusetts. Concurrently, a T-2 oil tanker is getting a thrashing that the below-deck crews, especially the engineer (Affleck), are fighting to keep the engines going. Later, to stay alive. The coast Guard station responds to a mayday; Chief Warrant Officer Cluff (Bana) sends out their best boat and crew. A fisherman (Matthew Maher) happens to faintly hear a ship’s emergency horn. After finding and telling Bernie, they arrive at the station just as Cluff gets word. Cluff orders Webber to take men on a rescue mission: only one volunteer is a seasoned sailor. They must get their craft over a bar (shoal) – the meters-high waves are known to “pitch-pole” boats, making it a life/death hurdle.

It is legendary: The SS Pendleton, a Type T2-SE-A1 tanker 504 feet (153.62 m) long, broke in half from the gale, and the Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat 36-foot (11 m) CG-36500, under Bernard C. Webber with a crew of three made one of the US Coast Guard’s most audacious rescues ever. No one expected to see them again when they left the station; they returned with thirty-two men from the shipwreck’s stern section in the 12-man boat.

Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson base their screenplay on Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias’ book: The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue. Craig Gillespie’s deft direction with Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography captures the awe and terror of an angry Atlantic Ocean leaving an indelible celluloid impression. But, the casts’ finely balanced performances, buoyed by Tatiana S. Riegel’s razor-sharp editing, sets a rhythm that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Backed by popular 1952 tunes, Carter Burwell’s fluctuating music shifts with the tension. The 3-D is a squander of money. Photographs at the film’s end document the rescue’s result. If there is anything to remind humans of immortality it is the sea, as emphasized during these men’s finest hours. (Marinell Haegelin)

Second Opinion

Based on the non-fiction book, The Finest Hours by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias, filmmaker Craig Gillespie brings to the silver screen their incredible story. Sherman and Tougias’s description is a fine example explaining the strength of the human spirit and a hope unwavering. Co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Whitaker Entertainment, Gillespie directs the epic film under the same name authors Sherman and Tougias gave their book. Gillespie creates a visually stimulating cinematic thriller, of epic scale to recall the most heroic rescue mission recorded in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Producer Dorothy Aufiero says, “The SS Pendleton (the 500-foot oil tanker) rescue was front page news at the time (1952), but not everyone today is familiar with the story.” She adds, “Including the families of the men who were part of the rescue itself.” It was not uncommon for men who handled heroic feats in this era to keep it to themselves. They didn’t think it was out of the ordinary. It was their job. To accomplish the task-at-hand was reward enough. It was nothing special in their mind.

Currently, two lone survivors are alive today who were directly involved with the February 18, 1952, mission: Coast Guard engineers Andy Fitzgerald and Mel “Gus” Gouthro. Fitzgerald who was the Coast Guard third-class engineer, stepped in for his friend and senior engineer Gouthro, who was sick the night of the rescue and could not join his crew. Gouthro took Fitzgerald’s place out of duty. Both men, friends to this day, were instrumental in helping the filmmakers in the early stages of the films development to ensure the facts and details were authentic, important to Gillespie’s film to recreate their ordeal. The two remember the historic night as if it were yesterday.

Gillespie needed to get the story right out of respect for the four men’s gallant efforts. To accomplish this task the film had to be faithful to the actual facts documented. He notes, “We wanted to be very specific, very clear and technically accurate with events involving the real people in the story.” The grand scale of the cinematography and other technologically stimulating effects prove to tell their giant story. But, to the men who appeared to be larger than life they shut the heroic notion down claiming it was all in a day’s work.

Fitzgerald recalls, “Some people still look at the Pendleton rescue as a suicide mission, I never saw it like that.” He continues, “We always said about each mission, ’You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back’. Our job was to save people and that’s what we did.” Gouthro adds, “Those four men went out and did their job.”

Along the upper New England coastline, on February 18, 1952, a gigantic nor’easter (sea storm) hit and had no problem destroying anything in its path. This particular seaboard is a common route for huge oil tankers. According to the U.S. Coast Guard there were five tankers traveling the coast that day. Two of five, 500-foot oil tankers, were caught dead-center in the eye of the storm.

The SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer, bound for Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, suffered intense damage. The storm ripped both vessels in half trapping most of their crews. First assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) aboard the stern of the Pendleton rallied his crew to work together to keep the ship afloat for as long as possible, hoping to be rescued.

The U.S. Coast Guard working the station in Chatham, Massachusetts were busy helping the local fishermen protect their boats from the storm when they received information that two tankers were in trouble in near-by waters. The news silenced the men. Those available at the station that night were next in line for the rescue. It was a death trap and each man knew it. Just months earlier, they lost one of their own to such a mission.

Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) ordered Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to take his crew and be in command of their CG 36500 buoyant lifeboat and head to the tankers to search for survivors. Obedient to orders on the call of duty, Webber and his crew of three men on board the 36-foot motorized, wooden lifeboat made only to hold twelve men left the harbor. Before they reached the wide-open sea the hurricane winds took the little boat’s windshield, compass and almost its crew. Now more than before, it was a suicide mission but the four all agreed to keep going until they found something or someone.

To their amazement, in the middle of 70-foot waves, frigid temperatures and zero visibility their spotlight located half of the Pendleton tanker nudged up against a sandbar. Shocked that the severed ship was afloat they searched for life. Amazed at what they saw lined along the top deck of the vessel were survivors. Webber and his crew counted thirty-three total.

They were overjoyed at the sight of men alive. At the same time, emotionally sickened knowing the capacity their little boat could carry in calm seas. As the seas continued to rage, how would they choose the eight to rescue? Webber and his crew began the rescue. They gave hope to the weary. But their mission to save lives was just beginning. (Karen Pecota)

Third Opinion

On the 18th of February 1952, a severe “nor’easter” hit the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The majority of the local Coast Guard was busy rescuing the crew of the SS Fort Mercer, a T2 tanker which broke in half 30 miles off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts. It is later discovered that another T2 tanker, the SS Pendleton, had also broken in half and was unable to send a distress call because only the stern of the ship remained afloat. Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and three other members of the Chatham Coast Guard mount a daring mission to save the lives of the remaining crew of the SS Pendleton. Back home, Bernie’s fiancée Miriam (Holliday Grainger) must wait anxiously to see if her love will return or be lost at sea.

There is much to enjoy here, and The Finest Hours certainly does its job as a Disney-produced family film with its cheesy love story, clean action, and a heartwarming ending. The CGI is well done and really gives the audience the perspective of what it’s like to be on a small boat in such severe weather. The acting is pretty solid, and Casey Affleck in particular shines as slightly awkward, yet brilliant chief engineer of the SS Pendleton. However, the accents of the entire main cast (barring Affleck who is a native of Massachusetts) were painful to listen to. Also, the addition of Miriam’s fictional side story during the storm (the real Miriam Webber was home in bed with the flu) was tedious at times and added nothing of worth to the film. The pacing would have been much smoother without it, and her actions makes little sense and make the character seem rather ridiculous. While it is easy to see why the screenwriters included the scenes in order to continue with the romantic subplot, it greatly weakens Miriam’s character and threatens to make the film overwhelmingly cheesy.

Regardless, what really impresses is how much of the story is actually true and that alone is enough to make it truly compelling to watch. However, for those who are looking for something a bit more original, The Finest Hours might disappoint. But for those who are simply looking for an interesting and fun action film based on the heroic actions of real people, it should hit all the right notes. (Rose Finlay)

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