Sunday, May 22, 2016

Video review: "The Finest Hours"

“The Finest Hours” is in the finest tradition of derring-do true life adventures in which ordinary men did extraordinary things, and you’re going to hear about them.

It’s the story of the 1952 rescue of the SS Pendleton, which was split in two by a fierce storm off New England. Men from the U.S. military’s least-celebrated branch, the Coast Guard, get their moment in the spotlight as we learn how they effected one of the most daring rescues in naval history.

Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, a crew leader stationed in Cape Cod. He’s a gentle soul, rather dim, speaks as if he’s got a mouthful of cod and crab all the time like any good Greater Bostonite. He actually believes the old seaman’s lore that he has to seek permission from his commander (Eric Bana) before getting married to his girl, Miriam (Holliday Grainger).

Frankly, he’s the guy the other Coast Guard guys pick on, though he’s too oblivious to realize it, and too kind to do anything about it if he did.

But when the storm hits and there’s nobody else to help, Bernie picks a handful of guys and they take off on their tiny powerboat to brave waves the size of cliffs. Ben Foster, one of Hollywood’s most reliable young character actors, shines as Bernie’s unexpectedly loyal right-hand man.

One of the best storytelling decisions by director Craig Gillespie and screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson was not to treat the men onboard the Pendleton as faceless and helpless. Casey Affleck plays Ray Sybert, the chief engineer, who organizes his team to keep the remains of the ship afloat. They even rig up a makeshift navigation system using spare parts and spit.

I found the movie interesting because it’s the story of two men, neither of whom are natural born leaders, who stepped into the fray when the call came and found that others looked to them for guidance. The film serves as an appreciation for the alpha male, the fellows who are usually stuck in the background of movies like this.

The seaborne action sequences are well-done and often thrilling. Bernie’s boat actually crashes through the waves rather than trying to go over them, briefly becoming a submersible craft as the desperate men hold their breath. Gillespie lets the seconds tick by as we expect the boat to emerge back into the life-giving air… any moment now…

“The Finest Hours” may not win many points for originality. But it’s a solid blend of action, drama and historical celebration.

Bonus features are pretty good, though you’ll have to spring for the Blu-ray upgrade to get the majority of them. The DVD version comes only with a documentary about the real-life rescuers, “The Finest Inspiration: The U.S. Coast Guard.”

With the Blu-ray edition you get three making-of featurettes: “Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story,” “Brotherhood” and “Two Crews.” You also receive firsthand accounts of real-life Coast Guard rescues and two deleted scenes.



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