The story of SS Pendleton and the coast guards brave rescue of the crew is a compelling one with the Pendleton breaking in half along with the SS Fort Mercer during a bad Nor’easter storm off the coast of Massachusetts, but unable to get off a distress call. The story has all the elements of making a good film men putting aside their differences and banding together to survive against all odds, while a small group of men in an in a small undersized boat braves a terrible storm to try and save them. Director Craig Gillespie’s film could have been good, but The Finest Hours becomes grounded in melodrama of its uninteresting romance, and unable to escape The Finest Hours sinks into mediocrity.
On February 18, 1952 a bad nor'easter hits Massachusetts and the north east. The storm becomes so bad that off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts the SS Fort Mercer and the SS Pendleton shockingly break into two with only the SS Fort Mercer being able to get off a distress call leaving the stern of the SS Pendleton afloat while the bow and the captain sink into the Atlantic Ocean leaving Ray Syber (Casey Affleck), Seaman Wallace Quirey (John Ortiz), Frank Fauteux (Graham McTavish), and the rest of the surviving crew alone floating in a sinking ship without any navigation or ability to send a distress call. During this unimaginable event Ray Syber leads his comrades to survive as long as possible amazingly constructing a tiller to steer the ship and running it a ground giving them the best chance for survival and hopefully to be rescued.
The events out on the ocean and on the stern of the Pendleton certainly are compelling and Casey Affleck does a fine job as Syber who though is disliked by much of the crew becomes a reluctant leader it’s too bad that in Chatham, Massachusetts the story is far less interesting. On land the film follows the romance between Boatswain's Mate First Class Bernard "Bernie" Webber (Chris Pine) and Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger) who meet months before the sinking of the Pendleton. Webber who is haunted by past a past event while on duty gets taken on a double date to finally meet Miriam whom Bernie has been talking to over the phone for weeks. I suppose the romance wouldn’t have been so bad if the romance story was written better and Pine and Grainger had any chemistry together, but they don’t making their lines together cheesy and often times cringe worth. It also doesn’t help that while Bernie is off attempting to rescue the crew of the Pendleton that the film still focuses on Miriam who comes off as annoying and needy especially when she confronts Bernie’s commander Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff who is forgettable played by Eric Bana.
When the film goes back into the ocean with Bernie things again are far more interesting as Bernie has been ordered by Cluff to find a crew and take a small 36 CG 36500 boat out into the storm and attempt to find, and if there were any survivors rescue the crew of the Pendleton. Bernie along with Seaman Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Seaman Richard Livesey (Kyle Gallner), and Seaman Ervin Maske (John Magaro) risk it all going out when local fisherman tell them not to, not thinking Bernie or the small coast guard boat could survive the storm let alone make it over the bar that is extremely dangerous during storms.
The Finest Hours certainly could have been a good feel good disaster film with the film being based on an actual event. Unfortunately The finest Hours isn’t a good film that is held back by a badly written and poorly directed romance with actors who had absolutely no chemistry together, but if you can get by the first twenty minutes of The Finest Hours the film ends up being decent that focuses on the crew of the Pendleton and their fight for survival, and Bernie’s compelling successful rescue that goes down as the greatest long boat rescue in coast guard history and one of the greatest rescues in coast guard history. I’d recommend seeing The Finest Hours just not in theaters, and instead wait until it arrives on Video on Demand or some other video rental service.