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Craig Gillespie

A scene from ‘The Finest Hours.’ Photo from Walt Disney Pictures

By Rich Acritelli

Last week Walt Disney Pictures released “The Finest Hours,” a film based on the story of four Coast Guard members that braved a nor’easter that caused havoc off the coast of Cape Cod in 1952. From the beginning, you will notice an impressive cast that works well together to bring this story to light. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film stars Chris Pine (Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard “Bernie” Webber), Casey Affleck (Robert Sybert), Holliday Grainger (Miriam Pentinen), Ben Foster (Seaman Richard Livesey) and Eric Bana (Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff). 

Gillespie depicts the simple life of the 1950s with the customs of enjoying a nice drink, meal and the chance to attend a town dance. This film starts by showing Coast Guard service member Webber as an easy going and hard-working man who goes on a blind date with Miriam Petinen. While they are opposites, they fall in love with each other.  The movie depicts a different kind of love with Miriam asking the cautiously mannered Bernie to marry her. After an awkward moment, he states that they will get married, but only after he receives permission from his commanding officer.  As Webber works on getting approval from Chief Cluff, a terrible storm hits the shores of Cape Cod. 

Gillespie does a good job in casting Bana who is a proven actor who could handle the rigors of military films (“Black Hawk Down,” “Munich,” and “Lone Survivor”). Before Webber can ask for approval, Cluff is faced with anxiety from two different fronts.  First, he understands that a rescue operation for the SS Pendelton is being conducted from the headquarters in Boston, but he is unsure how his men fit into the rescue endeavor. Second, he is a southern officer who has not yet gained the respect of these northern men who openly doubt his professional abilities.

As rescue efforts are mounted, Webber is ordered to take three Coast Guardsmen to search for the Pendleton.  It is believed that this is a suicide mission that will only lead to the death of these men. Webber has to maneuver through hazardous waters in a vessel that is too small to handle the fury of these poor maritime conditions. 

The film does a masterful job of showing the strains that are placed on these men to locate this ship. They display a comradeship that never losses focus of their objective to locate the Pendleton.

With Webber organizing the rescue efforts, the Pendleton and its crew is commanded  by Sybert played by Affleck who is masterful in showing a man who is conflicted by his superior knowledge of this ship, but a man who is deemed to be a loner.

It becomes apparent that the ship will sink after it is split in half by the storm.  Sybert refuses to accept his crew’s position that they should abandon ship in their small rescue boats. He firmly states that they will be killed from the rough waters. Sybert believes that they have to run the tanker ashore if they are  going to have any chance of seeing their loved ones. At the same time, Webber’s crew is risking their lives to reach the Pendleton: Their compass malfunctions from the multiple times that their ship takes on water from the tenacity of the massive waves.

Unflinchingly, Webber is faithful to his duty to find the Pendleton and save the crew of thirty-two men from drowning.

The film concludes with the residents  of Cape Cod helping Webber bring the men to safety. Members of this community along with Webber’s fiancée figure out the location of the tanker and they travel to a nearby dock where they turn on all of their car lights as beacons of hope to guide the rescuers to safety.  From start to finish, “The Finest Hours” portrays the devotion of the Coast Guard to overcome the gigantic weather strains that are caused by Mother Nature.

‘The Finest Hours,” rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of peril), is now playing in local theaters.

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