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Film / The Finest Hours

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The Finest Hours is a historical dramatization of the rescue of the crew of a wrecked tanker by the United States Coast Guard, starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana.

In 1952, the T2 oil tanker SS Pendleton breaks in two during a winter nor'easter off the coast of New England. When word reaches the US Coast Guard station at Chatham, Massachusetts, the commander dispatches Bosun's Mate Bernie Webber along with three others in a tiny 36-foot motor lifeboat to find the stricken ship and rescue the crew, come hell or high water.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abandon Ship: Mr. Sybert refuses to abandon the ship, as the seas are too rough for the lifeboats and he believes their best chance is to keep the stern afloat as long as they can until someone can reach them. Only then do they evacuate. Sybert soon realizes that they will soon sink and their only hope is to find a shoal and run what's left of the ship aground and hope they are rescued before the storm pushes them off and sinks them.
  • Beyond the Impossible: The rescue should have been impossible. A boat like the CG-36500 should never been able to get over the Chattam Bar during such a severe storm. It should not have been possible to locate the stern of the Pendleton in the dark and without a compass. Yet, Bernie Webber managed all this and brought 32 survivors back to dry land.
  • Burning the Ships: Sybert cuts the sole remaining lifeboat down, which is then splintered by the waves, leaving the men no other choice but to help him keep the ship afloat awhile longer.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Andrew is not yet fully qualified as an engineman for a boat like CG-36500. However, all but one of the the other qualified men are already out at sea and the remaining senior engineman is extremely sick and is in no condition to go out. Andrew volunteers and Bernie takes him because there is no one else available.
  • Cool Boat: CG-36500 is a 36-foot motor lifeboat designed for rescue operations in heavy seas. The wooden boat is built of sturdy white oak and maple, with a solid-bronze keel and skeg, and a 160-horsepower GM diesel engine. It is designed to be self-bailing and self-righting if capsized. These features come in handy as the boat is rolled over and submerged entirely by huge waves. The boat bobs right back up each time.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The camera sticks with the lifeboat underwater as it ploughs straight through some of the giant waves. And late in the movie is an unusual but very distinctive tracking P.O.V. Cam shot in the third person following a character falling from a rope ladder into the water.
  • Father Neptune: Pops, an elder Merchant Marine sailor aboard SS Pendleton, is a Cool Old Guy with a Seadog Beard and tattoos from exotic ports all over the world. He trusts Sybert completely, knows exactly what they need to do, and doesn't let his broken arm slow him down.
    • Several of the Chatham fishermen also qualify. They know the waters off Massachusetts, especially the perilous Chatham Bar, better than anyone and warn Webber that he's going out on a suicide mission. When they are unable to convince him to abort the rescue attempt, they resolve to help however they can from shore despite the biting cold and blowing snow.
  • Happily Married: As the epilogue shows, Bernie and Miriam were married for 58 years until he died in 2009.
  • Hero of Another Story: In the original book, while still focusing on Webber's crew, also details the other boats' rescue attempts at the Pendleton's bow and stern, and the two halves of the SS Mercer, as well as recalling other historic lifeboat missions of the area. Ironically, it also carries on with the story to include Bernie Webber's discomfort with being singled out as a hero when other boats also had perilous missions.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: Bosun's Mate Bernie Webber is an exceptionally skilled small boat handler who navigates across Chatham Bar by reading the waves to avoid the ever-shifting shoals on the way out, then does it again in pitch darkness on the way back in by listening to the waves. On top of that, he managed to find Pendleton's stern in the dark with an inoperable radio and no compass, but also manages to keep his motor lifeboat steady alongside in heavy seas to take the survivors off.
  • Ironic Nickname: Tiny is the Pendleton's cook. He is the largest man on the crew.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Brown, who has been a Jerkass the entire time, says that Sybert should be the last man to leave. Why? Because The Captain is the last man to leave a sinking ship, and Brown believes that Sybert has earned the honor.
  • It's All About Me: Subverted with Miriam. Her repeated, forceful demands that the rescue effort be called off to keep Bernie out of danger are refused by Commander Cloff and she gets kicked out of the Coast Guard station over it. On the way home, she hits a snowbank and is bailed out by a housewife whose husband died on a fishing boat Bernie unsuccessfully tried to rescue, and notes that Bernie and his crew barely came back with their own lives. This gives Miriam a much-needed reality check that she's not the only woman out there who's worried for her man, and that as risky as Bernie's mission is, a lot of other ladies would definitely become widows if he didn't make the attempt.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Warrant Officer Cluff is absolutely right when he annoyedly asks if Miriam is going to come in demanding that Bernie, a Coast Guard bosun's mate trained as a motor lifeboat coxswain, be recalled every time he goes out on a rescue mission. Yes, it's extremely dangerous, but rescuing mariners from the clutches of the cruel and ruthless sea is the job Bernie signed up for.
  • Jumped at the Call: Ervin is just a low-ranking seaman who'd come to the station house to get out of the cold, but he volunteers to go on the rescue mission with Bernie even as a lot of more experienced sailors keep their silence.
    Ervin: Well someone has to go out and save those guys, right? That's why I signed up. Guess now's my chance. ... Seaman Ervin Maske, Stonehorse lightship.
  • Love Theme: Meeting Miriam for when Bernie meets the girl he eventually marries.
  • Music for Courage: As CG-36500 approaches the monstrous waves breaking over Chatham Bar, Maske starts quietly whispering the lyrics of the sea chanty "Haul Away Joe." The rest of the crew soon join in.
    • Tiny sings sea chanties to the Pendleton crew while they await rescue.
  • The Navigator: Bernie is able to find the Pendleton stern and then find his way back to port, most of it after his compass was lost, just from his knowledge of the currents in the area and figuring where the ocean was taking them.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Bernie refuses to head back to port until everyone is off the Pendleton.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: US Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG-36500 is thirty-six feet long, or a little larger than a semi-truck. The Nor'easter storm whips up waves twice as high as the boat is long.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: The crew of the Pendleton find themselves in one after a welding seam breaks under stress, and the ship breaks in two.
  • What You Are in the Dark: There are many instances where Bernie could abort the mission and no one would question his decision to do so. Some of the local fishermen even suggest that he "get lost" on the way to Chatham Bar. However, he keeps going because he could not live with himself if he did not do everything he could to rescue the sailors trapped on the Pendleton.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Upon laying eyes on CG-36500 for the first time, Seaman Maske says, "Please tell me we're takin' that boat to a bigger boat!"