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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Finest Hours’

3 Stars — Courageous

The greatest small boat rescue in the history of the Coast Guard is impressively presented by Craig Gillespie in his film The Finest Hours.

Based on the book of the same name by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias and adapted for the screen by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, the setting is in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.

In February of 1952 the oil tanker S.S. Pendleton was broken in two by the powerful waves of a winter storm. The front half of the ship sunk immediately but the stern portion stayed seaworthy due to the engines, pumps and propeller for about five hours. 

The obvious tension, making rescue virtually impossible, was the power of the storm, but this rescue is only one source of the tension in this tale.

The authors interviewed the survivors and explored the lives of the people involved, and the story thus interweaves three tensions that make this tale. 

The first is that of the coxswain of the rescue boat, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and his fiancé Miriam (Holliday Grainger). 

A shy and rule-following young serviceman, Bernie is taken by Miriam and the evening of the storm marked a primary moment in their relationship.

Also part of the tension is the interaction of the crew members at the Coast Guard station in Chatham. These conflicts emerge not only in the rivalry of the coxswains who pilot the rescue vessels but also in the inexperience of the Chief Warrant Officer, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). 

Held in disdain by his own more seasoned enlisted men as he sends them on what everyone considered a suicide mission to save the Pendleton, he is also dismissed by the local fishermen who had lost a beloved crew the winter before in a failed Coast Guard rescue attempt.

The final tension is the crew of the Pendleton itself. The anxiety is not only the battle with the ocean to try and save their lives but also between the men on the vessel. 

Struggling over what to do, with some wanting to pray while others want to act and with some wanting to lower life-boats while others want to run the vessel aground, the efforts they make to save themselves are ingenious and make their rescue possible.

We won’t spoil the specifics of the tale except to say that it is clear that the providential circumstances of the rescue cause those involved to describe it as “lucky.” 

This, of course, is one way of looking at moments such as these, but the prayers of the crews on both vessels are obviously another way of describing why this impossible rescue became possible. 

Although the film does not explain it, Webber was the son of a Baptist minister, and in his interviews he described the rescue as guided by “Divine Providence.” 

That is most often the reality of the good fortune of all of our lives.

Discussion

» When others are at risk of losing their lives would you put your life in danger to save them? Where do you think the courage of men like Bernie Webber originates?

» In the final analysis, Webber’s regulation-following attitude both caused him to continue the search and then save 32 people when his boat was not approved for that many. How do you find that balance between following the regulations and knowing when to set them aside for a larger purpose?

» Webber went on to live a distinguished military career that included a tour in Vietnam. He died at the age of 81 having spent a long and loving life with Miriam. Do you agree with him that Divine Providence is the cause of this and other good fortune? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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