All I could remember about the film I was about to preview was that it was about a boat. As we switched our cell phones to silent another reviewer reminded me that it was based on a true story. I was surprised, therefore, to see the Disney logo come up on screen as I adjusted the 3D glasses I had, for once, remembered to bring. My expectations were primed: a story that would doubtless have a happy ending and one with great cinematic effects. I was right. And the journey there was a fine one indeed.
The scene for The Finest Hours is set in the opening moments of the film: a quiet coast guard worker, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), meets Miriam (Holliday Grainger). Bernie’s timid advances towards this pretty young woman – who is afraid of what lurks in the depths of the sea – are underscored by his tow-the-line attitude at work. This is a young man in need of toughening up.
His chance materialises when a call comes in to the coast guard office about a ship in distress. His boss, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), decides to send Bernie and a crew of three out into the raging storm to attempt an unlikely rescue. Daniel is a new recruit and an uncertain manager himself and his decision proves to be a test of his own leadership.
Meanwhile, the ship in distress has literally snapped in two leaving its crew of 32 without a captain. After some pecking order aggression, it is Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) who emerges as the leader. Sybert is a quiet but astute man who thinks on his feet and never gives up trying to save the broken vessel. With the elements, and certain crew members, working against him, Sybert has his work cut out for him.
The tension on both sides of the action – the sinking ship and the small vessel that labours out to facilitate the rescue – is engaging. It pulls the viewer in and builds up nicely without dipping or going on too long. The cinematography is absolutely outstanding. Not once do the crashing waves in the angry sea, or the movements of the vessels look fake. And the characterisation, especially of Sybert and Webber, is incrementally developed and a delight to watch. Particularly in light of the fact that the characters are based on real people. It is fairly easy to spot the Disney influence in the film: a film about Webber and Sybert’s finest hours. I call it “The making of two captains”.
The Finest Hours opens at Ster Kinekor cinemas in South Africa on Friday 29 January 2016.