Disney’s The Finest Hours is not Necessarily a Wreck

2 Feb

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

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The Force must have been with United States Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), the hero in Disney’s The Finest Hours. Although the actor is better known as Captain Kirk in the revitalized Star Trek, this character’s good fortune and instinct to navigate the rough seas is central to this film’s plot. He’s ordered into a Kobayashi Maru style scenario where rescue seems impossible. When the SS Pendleton, a World War II-era oil tanker, is one of two boats that got ripped apart in the middle of an Atlantic winter storm near Cape Cod, not even Santa Claus can bring hope.

Technically, the events occurred in February — well past the holidays but close to Valentine’s (Feb 18th, 1952), perhaps explaining the subplot of Bernie’s romance with Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger). Though their marriage plans were in the works and the date marked a highlight to make this movie a type to bring a date with, to which it is not.

The focus is on the drama between getting to the split boat in time, before it sinks. That means piloting through a dangerous section of sea to get to the Pendleton. The Chatham bar is an area with a mean vortex of waves that only the experienced can navigate through, and small boats tend to avoid. Webber and crew (Fitzgerald, Maske and Livsey) dared to cross it to get to the survivors in time. The effects made to sell the feeling of being in the stomach of an angry sea are well done. Practical and digital techniques highlighted the dangers of sailing through any tempest.

Not even old tankers could make it through this gale. An explanation hinted at why the Pendleton easily broke. Usually, these boats  are built to last. It would take an iceberg to gnash through the steel and when a faulty weld looks to blame, perhaps some boats are best left decommissioned instead of put to use even after military service.

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Facts aside, this movie misses its mark offering two plots at the same time. The romantic angle felt too underdeveloped. To see him vie for Miriam as a motive to return to safe harbour just did not work. Anyone familiar with the real story will not find anything new. As a film highlighting a small crew of rescuers of going up against an angry Poseidon (Nature) will not find religion. This movie does show how Webber uses his instincts to find the Pendleton and float home (by some strange luck, the seas came to a sudden calm afterwards). As for where he got it, any experienced Maritimer just knows.

3 Stars out of 5

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