The Finest Hours


This is an old-fashioned movie, designed for family viewing in a way that say, “Ride Along 2” is not.
It's based on a true story. In February of 1952, a huge storm off the East Coast caused an oil tanker at sea to be literally ripped in two. The fore half, containing the bridge where the Captain was, sunk immediately, but the aft contained the engine room, where the resourceful engineer, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), was doing his best to stay afloat long enough for a search and rescue team to find them.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard station nearby was busy doing....nothing. The Skipper, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) dithered about whether it was even safe to send out a boat into the teeth of that Nor'Easter, and some grumbling among the old salts in the mess hall made it clear that if they were sent out, they intended to get “lost” trying to get out of the harbor. No way they were anxious to go on a suicide mission.
Actually, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) wasn't eager to venture forth, either, but when the Skipper asked him to, he dutifully complied, along with a small crew of volunteers. They knew it wouldn't be easy. Webber was engaged to be married in a couple of months to his beautiful beau, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), so he wasn't looking to do anything all that risky. But he was first of all a man who does his duty when asked. So off they went.
The 3-D is actually a little distracting, but it's effective for rendering to the viewer those enormous waves that the little rescue boat had to navigate over---and then get briefly dragged under, counting on popping back up, then doing it all over again. It took even more courage once their compass and radio went out. How were they even going to find the wrecked tanker?
Meanwhile, the trapped tanker crew, unable to steer their ship in the way it was designed, had somehow rigged up a makeshift system of chains, pulleys, and steel bars to fashion a crude rudder. Their plan was to try to find a rock outcropping where they could intentionally ground their vessel, which would at least buy them a little time before the battering waves claimed them all.
“The Finest Hours” does a good job switching the viewers back and forth between venues, from the sweaty, flooded, panicked engine room of the tanker to the tiny rescue boat buffeted by the elements to the Skipper's tense radio room, where all they could do was hope for the best. The tension is brought by Richard (Ben Foster), one of the tanker crew, campaigning for them all to abandon ship and climb in the little lifeboat (where chances of survival were actually even smaller), and Miriam, begging the Skipper to not send out her fiancee on such a dangerous mission (though she was “trespassing” in the Coast Guard control room). This movie has the look and feel of a 1950's film, as well, from the awkward romancing to the noticeable lack of foul language, even in adverse circumstances (not to mention the absence of sex, nudity, drugs, or any violence other than situational).
It's a good sea yarn, but not a fish tale, as the “real” characters' photos are shown during the end credits.

Questions For Discussion:
  1. Do you have a scare story involving being out on the water?
  2. Who decides when a rescue attempt is too risky for the rescuers?
  3. Should the Coast Guard be a separate branch of the service?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Athens, Texas