‘The Finest Hours’ a Family-Friendly Tale of Extraordinary Selflessness
[Parental Content Advisory at bottom of review.]
“The Finest Hours” — a jaw-dropping rescue-at-sea tale set off the East Coast in the ’50s — brings us one of the most astonishing true stories I’ve ever seen adapted for film. And it does so with satisfying style — immersive visual effects (with incredible POV shots during the storm at sea) and a carefully researched screenplay. It was stunning to watch an entire boat intentionally duck dive like a surfer under skyscraper-sized waves. But I especially enjoyed the film’s atmospheric snapshots of an American East Coast harbor community during the ’50s, complete with the classic knit-capped grizzled fishermen, vintage cars, lighthouses, dance halls with live big bands, and hand-held radios.
I was immediately drawn to this film because of the actors. Chris Pine (“Star Trek,” “Unstoppable”), Casey Affleck (“Gone Girl Gone,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,”), Eric Bana (“Star Trek,” “Munich”) and Holliday Grainger (“Cinderella”) do very well, as does the entire supporting cast. Whoever was in charge of casting earned their keep. And it was a pleasant surprise to see the talented Holliday Grainger in a more prominent role since her performance as one of the steps-sisters in 2015’s “Cinderella.” (I thought she was one of the highlights of “Cinderella.”) She possessed a wonderful strength in “The Finest Hours.”
And even though it’s set during the winter with onslaughts of snow and rain — and even though much of it takes place at night — the film has a strangely hypnotizing, gorgeous quality to it. It sticks with you, especially the final scenes when the lights pierce the darkness of the storm. It stirs up a sublime, brooding mood that gets under your skin.
More than anything, however, it captures the sensation that you feel when you go far from home and find yourself on a very dangerous adventure that strikes real fear into your heart — that kind of uncertainty that makes you seriously wonder whether you will ever see home or not. And then when you finally do get home, you get that sudden feeling of intense gladness that just washes through your veins and makes you go weak at the knees with relief.
“The Finest Hours” captures that feeling perfectly.
Also what I found refreshing: it was family-friendly. Sure, it’s PG-13 because of its intense, anxiety-inducing ship-at-sea storm scenes, but there are no sex scenes, nudity, excessive language, or violent gore. If you’re a family with a fair amount of kids 13 or older and you don’t feel like seeing a kiddy cartoon movie, “The Finest Hours” will provide an atmospheric, 1950s time traveling thrill ride for the fam. It’ll also put on full display what it means to have a self-sacrificing character — something that is in short supply in our me-first centered narcissistic culture.
It also allows faith to have a quiet, subtle presence in the film. It’s not in your face about it, and that’s fine by me. The quiet presences of things can sometimes be the most powerful. In one scene the crew on the tanker gathers together to pray for the other members of their crew and for their own situation — a spontaneous intercessory prayer meeting on a sinking tanker! You don’t see that every day. In another scene we see the Bible passage Psalm 23, and we get the impression that a deeply rooted faith lies behind the quiet strength of the community.
What’s amazing is that every major element — and many of the minor details — are true to the reality of what happened. The mind-blowing rescue is still considered the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. Nothing has topped it. The man Bernie who navigated the boat, played by Chris Pine, carved and sculpted the massive skyscraper sized waves like Da Vinci chiseling a masterpiece. The film portrayed the nuanced skill and perfectly timed intuition of a master sailor who knows the ocean and the wind like the back of his hand. It was fascinating to watch. And to think this man really existed just gave it more gravity. You gotta love true stories. Who can resist them?
Of course, true stories adapted for the big screen seem to be the primary fuel of Hollywood studios these days, along with reboots, remakes, book-to-screen movies, and infinitely expanding Universes (Marvel, Star Wars, etc.). It’s interesting. The true story films from the 20th century really seem to hit a note with our current decade of nostalgia.
And this leads to a personal theory.
The Age of Nostalgia: A Defining Characteristic of the 2010s (And Why ‘The Finest Hours’ Fits Wonderfully Into It)
If the 2000s ushered Western culture into the Age of Trauma — thanks to 9/11 and all other tragedies and terrible developments that followed geopolitically — the 2010s are fighting back by carving out the Age of Nostalgia. Of course, the nostalgia began to percolate in the 2000s, but the last five years have seen the trend explode. Sure, Hollywood is on a reboot/remake kick because it’s easy, reliable money, and that business angle fuels it, but there’s always a deeply rooted cultural origin of a successful business model. You see it in other corners of pop culture. There’s a mass craving for the various Golden Ages of the 20th Century, and everyone has their favorite decade that they think is the Golden Age of American culture (or of their own life). The most popular ones — if you use Hollywood plot points as the guide — have been the ’50s and ’60s, though the nostalgia bug has crept into the ’70s, ’80s, and now even the ’90s with the return of “Full House” and the massive popularity of ’90s reboot shows like “Girl Meets World.”
But we sure do love the Fifties — and not just for the obvious reasons of Rock and Roll, classic roadsters, and the cast of Grease. It was a fascinating transition point in history: the world just beginning to emerge from the ruins of WWII, the birth of the Cold War and the great Spy Battles between the USSR and USA that have become the stuff of legend, the ongoing drama of Nazis on the run and the good guys hunting them down in Brazil, and the still-innocent, pre-Vietnam embracing of patriotism and Captain America-like sense of responsibility for our neighbors. “The Finest Hours,” set in 1952, really fits into that mold in a way that’s grittier and more plausible than Captain America without losing the Cap’s virtue — mainly because the events actually happened. The main character Bernie exudes an almost superhuman drive to do his job and look out for others in need, even if it is a suicide mission that will certainly cost him his life. It’s the latest superb installment in our Age of Nostalgia. And that’s saying a lot. The last several months have seen a long line of well-made mid-20th period pieces — and a few of them were full-on masterpieces of film — partially or fully set in the ’50s or early ’60s: “Phoenix,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Legend,” “Love & Mercy,” and “The Age of Adaline.”
And “The Finest Hours” fits right into that group. It’s beautiful, inspiring, thoughtful, and well executed. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s actually something the whole family can see (well, minus kids under 13).
Content Advisory for Parents for this PG-13 Rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: An engaged couple kisses with passion.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: A man falls into the ocean from a ladder hanging from a ship, and the wave
s throw him into the giant propellers of the tanker and kill him. Blood is seen on the propellor and surrounding a silhouette of the man floating in the water, but it is not gory or graphic. Much of the movie involves men navigating a boat through monstrous stormy waters — as well as a tanker crew trying to stay alive on a sinking tanker. So most of the film is very intense and full of stressful survival situations.
Language: A thin scattering of a few mild obscenities — “hell” once (maybe twice) and (maybe) damn, though I’m having a hard time remembering. Any language was few and far between.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.