Disney’s ‘The Finest Hours’ rides the high seas of world many leagues from our own, but if only life could be that simple, says Colum Finnegan
Climb aboard The Finest Hours, Disney’s latest voyage into the world of action-packed rescue films. Talking as it’s starting point the impressive sounding “US Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue” (who’s choosing these feats?), this is not a tale with an ambiguous conclusion.
Chris Pine (Captain Kirk of the recent Star Trek reboot) is one Bernie Webber, a shy and rule-abiding coastguard. He knows the water, but with a recent failure in the line of duty hanging over him, has lost his sea legs. Involved in a budding romance with just-pretty-enough Miriam (Holliday Grainger – perfectly styled as a ’50s dame), the two are engaged to be married, (perhaps in an attempt to echo contemporary feminist themes, the script has Miriam propose to Bernie, a serious no-no in patriarchal 1950s America). Bernie just has to get permission from his boss.
However, the very day he asks for said permission in rolls a huge storm and Bernie is sent out to rescue the crew of the SS Pendleton, a huge oil tanker that has literally spilt in half. Naturally, due to the severity of the storm, the rescue is highly dangerous – few expect Bernie and his crew of three to return alive.
Aboard the stricken Pendleton, 32 men are facing almost certain death. Trapped in half a ship, it seems a miracle that they are afloat at all, and the desperation of their situation drives home the dangers of the seafaring life. They elect to place their faith in the film’s other hero, reticent engine operator Ray Sybert (an ever charming Casey Affleck), who insists they must run the ship aground if they are to have any chance of survival.
The men then, with great difficulty, attempt to carry out his unorthodox plan. All the while Bernie and his skeleton crew attempt to reach them, despite having lost their compass. We know he will get there, but it wont be easy.
Classic disaster movie fare, there is never a real doubt that the rescue will come off, yet the film is so well put together (and in IMAX 3D) that one can’t help feeling every gut-wrenching roll of the ocean. The script is spot on, developing the relationships in a believable way, not avoiding the interpersonal tensions inherent in such strained circumstances. Both Affleck and Pine carry their scenes with aplomb and keep you involved, rooting for their survival and success.
That being said, The Finest Hours is a wholly Disney film. In the 1950’s it conjures up, old fashioned values win out ¬– true love and self belief, tempered with a healthy dose of humility. Though the values are not new, the way in which the main characters embody them is. Both of our heroes, Bernie and Ray, are quiet men just doing their jobs to the best of their ability. This style of heroism is far removed from the typical alpha male variety (Rambo, John McClane et al.) that usually drives such flicks. And whilst on one hand refreshing, it can also be read as a cynical appeal to the fantasy that the good guys always win out in the end.
Though its world is at times hard to believe, it is also strangely seductive, a place of fairness and just desserts, wildly removed from the harsh realities of real life. The Finest Hours thus offers up two hours of pure escape with a big ol’ serving of catharsis to leave you feeling suitably (if you’re American) patriotic.
The Finest Hours is in cinemas on February 19
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