Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This film about the daring Coast Guard rescue of more than 20 men from a broken-down oil tanker includes a lot of disaster imagery and violence, including a powerful storm that breaks an oil tanker in half and causes the deaths of many men and 3D effects that might overwhelm younger viewers; also some cursing, some kissing, and one argument between a high-ranking Coast Guard official and a worried fiancée that includes some definite sexism.
Many branches of the U.S. military have been featured on the big screen, and the Coast Guard gets its opportunity with ‘The Finest Hours.’ The film tries to tell too many stories at one time, but it has great effects work to accompany some solid performances.
By Roxana Hadadi
The Coast Guard doesn’t seem to get the same attention in pop culture as the U.S. Army (“Zero Dark Thirty”), the U.S. Air Force (“Top Gun”), or other branches of the military, but they finally get a chance in the spotlight with “The Finest Hours.” This drama tells the story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s most noteworthy rescue attempt, and the movie is at its best in full-disaster mode. The other stuff, like a romance subplot, drags down its thrilling forward momentum.
This is a Disney movie, so you can probably tell from the get-go that “The Finest Hours” will end in a feel-good way, and for families with teenagers, it will be a solid choice. There are messages here about teamwork, authority, and self-confidence that could all be discussed after the film, like how the men on the destroyed oil tanker work together to problem-solve saving themselves and how the Coast Guard members interact with the townspeople of Wellfleet, Massachusetts—some of whom have had family members die because of failed Coast Guard rescue attempts. “The Finest Hours” spreads itself thin with disparate subplots, but it has enough good stuff to talk through with teen viewers afterward.
The film focuses on Coast Guard member Bernie Webber (Chris Pine, of “Z for Zachariah”), a man struggling with self-confidence because of what others think of him—while on his first date with love interest Miriam (Holliday Grainger, of “Cinderella”), he mentions that he’s not his father’s favorite—and what he thinks of himself. He follows the rules, but they don’t always work out; a rescue attempt he led recently failed, causing the deaths of some good men in their small town of Wellfleet. And in a town where practically everyone knows each other, being considered as responsible for the deaths of fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers is a kind of inescapable public shame.
But in February 1952, Bernie has the chance to redeem himself when, after a fantastically bad blizzard, an oil tanker some miles from shore is split in half. One half sinks, and the men on the other half—led by Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck, of “Interstellar”), negatively nicknamed “Seabird” by his fellow sailors for being so attached to the ship—need saving. Although he has only a rickety boat and an inexperienced crew, Bernie goes out in the storm to bring the men back home—much to the concern of Miriam and his fellow Coast Guard members, who are certain he’s heading to his death.
Of the three plots “The Finest Hours” tries to juggle at once, two of them do well: Bernie and his crew trying to navigate the storm makes for some impressive effects, like their small boat flying up vertically through waves and withstanding some windy abuse, and Sybert and his fellows trying to troubleshoot how to get the tanker to a shoal so they can stay in one place and hopefully get rescued. Both of those subplots handle definitive challenges with engineering, skill, and finesse, and they’re engrossing.
Less successful, though, is how the movie treats Miriam; there’s a showdown between her and Bernie’s commanding officer, a thoroughly miscast Eric Bana, that is painful not only because of its sexism but because of the scene’s awkwardness. There is a surprising amount to like in the movie, but with that one clichéd, underdeveloped subplot wedged in with the more-successful other two, “The Finest Hours” isn’t flawless.
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