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Review: The Finest Hours

Ros Hull

In February of 1952, one of the worst storms to ever hit the east coast of the USA struck New England, damaging an oil tanker off the coast of Cape Cod. On a small lifeboat faced with frigid temperatures and 70-foot high waves, four members of the Coast Guard set out to rescue the more than 30 stranded sailors trapped aboard the rapidly sinking vessel. IMDb 

What a complete surprise!

I knew nothing at all about this film going in – and enjoyed it so much I may (possibly) have given cinema staff chapter and verse on its merits on the way out … when they were trying to lock up … and it was after 11.30. Sorry.

But it really was very good. I have barely seen a review on it and most writers are dismissing it as old-fashioned and ho hum, I just have to ask – were they watching the same movie I was?

It is a type of cinema madly common 50 years ago and utterly rare now. An action packed, suspenseful drama with heaps of jump-and-gasp moments. Without severed limbs pumping blood. Or unnecessary violence. Or stupidity. How could there be a story without that? Disney Studios deserve a pat on the back for giving it a red-hot go!

The only stereotyping is in and of the era of the story. There are only two women with speaking roles – but those girls make every gesture and every word count. They are not historical anachronisms, waving swords or wearing trousers, they are real women dealing with their lives with stoicism, grace and a backbone of pure steel. Note to the Coens: THIS is how you write a female character from the 1950s.

Every man in every role is completely committed to the project – even those sailors who are only seen right in the background are living every moment of their ordeal. There are no big stars in this production, just good actors delivering interesting character studies of real people. Fantastic.

Chris Pine is light years away from Capt. Kirk but his interpretation of an ordinary, achingly shy man, someone who doubts himself as much as his community doubts him, but who is unbelievably brave when called on is kind of wonderful. Casey Affleck as the monosyllabic chief engineer on the crippled tanker could hold his own against James Stewart or Humphrey Bogart in a similar role.

Then there are the special effects. And sound effects. Wow.

I say ‘crippled tanker’ but that doesn’t go far enough. It splits in half! My brother, the sailor, tells me this was more common than you would think when supertankers first ploughed the oceans. Mix that with a wild, wild storm and things are going to go south. Badly. The Coast Guard boat that sets out to rescue the crew is like the soaking wet, freezing little engine that could. Again, my brother-the-sailor tells me that my description of the boat going completely underwater to get through truly terrifying waves is true to how the boats operated. OMG.

The sets are amazing, the location shooting was done in the real town and apparently the sea was every bit as horribly cold as it looks in the film. Make sure you stay for the final credits to see photos of the real people and the town. Quite heart wrenching.

Still, for all the edge of the seat action I would say you could take your nice Aunt Helen, or children in upper primary school to see this. What better antidote to little sister’s princess obsession than real life adventure with real life heroes?

Roslyn saw this film as a guest of Limelight Cinemas, Tuggeranong.

Ros Hull

Ros saw Star Wars and immediately wanted to fly the Millenium Falcon. Unable to do that she became a Jill-of-all-trades as her army husband whirled her around the world – and back to Canberra 10 years ago. She has worked in public programs and museum education ever since. She gained an MA in writing whilst getting two daughters through high school - both are now at university and undeniably fabulous (according to her). She can worry as an Olympic sport so she sees lots of movies instead. More about the Author

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