Based on a true story, The Finest Hours is about the heroic coast guard rescue by a small team of four on no more than a small lifeboat. They are forced to save more than 30 sailors after their oil tanker splits in half in a deadly storm off the coast of Massachusetts in 1952.
The cast is stacked with Chris Pine playing the main protagonist Bernie Weber, Ben Foster looking nearly unrecognizable as the hardened Richie, and Eric Bana as the "funny talking," tragically incompetent captain, among many other familiar faces, however, these grade-A actors are relegated to amateurs in the shadow of Casey Affleck in another performance full of such nuance and quiet intensity that it made the more than capable Chris Pine look cartoonish. Give me Casey Affleck staring calculatingly at the trembling hull of a ship for two hours and take my money. There is more skill in that man than all the actors combined, and that isn't to disparage their abilities. That is simply to show the level of craft he has achieved.
The film's three points of tension come from Bernie's impossible rescue mission, the sinking crew's struggle for survival, and the love story between Chris Pine's Bernie and Holiday Grainger's Miriam, whose rapid-paced, very 1950's style love-affair is put in jeopardy upon Bernie's mission to certain death.
Although the love story feels necessary, and provides a welcome reprieve from the high-seas action, it initially feels rushed, and all too quintessentially Disney in a movie whose strengths lie in its realistic intensity and themes of duty in the face of death.
The Finest Hours truly sings at its highest pitch in the scenes bouncing back and forth between Bernie's crew crashing through the storm on their way towards the tanker, and the tanker crew desperately trying to survive as they sail a ship broken in two.
Between the two crews there are dueling themes of duty (the coast guard) and survival (the tanker), and the brotherhood formed in the face of both. This isn't the kind of rah-rah brotherhood you see in war films, where friendship is as abundant as respect - this is the kind of brotherhood solely built on respect, where the lack of friendship casts the ever-looming threat of failure over them like a wave. It is an incredibly important and poignant aspect of the film, especially in the case of Casey Affleck, who as the ship's engine-man, is thrust into the position of leader of a crew who don't like him, let alone trust him. It is their respect for him that keeps their loyalty. The only reason these men don't want to see him fail is because it would cost them their own lives.
The same is true for Bernie, whose past failure to save a crew still haunts him. Accompanied by a crew including Foster's Richie, who remembers Bernie's failure all too well, and two brand new coast guardsmen, whose duty drive them more than their trust for Bernie, defeat means validating everything he fears about himself.
Trust that there is an overwhelming threat of death in the exhilarating scenes where Bernie's crew takes on forty foot waves, often submerging underwater completely in sequences that would seem otherwise unbelievable if the film wasn't so effective at wrapping you up in the action. If you didn't have a deep respect for the ocean before, this film will give it to you in abundance.