Based on the true story that's generally considered one of the greatest Coast Guard rescues of all time, The Finest Hours, which opens Friday areawide, relies on some first-rate source material. Though clearly Disney-fied to the point that there's no profanity and very little in the way of violence, the film does a credible job of bringing the naturally suspenseful story to life.
At the film's start, we meet Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), a surly anti-social engineer who works in the belly of the Pendleton, a gigantic oil tanker. A nor'easter off the coast of Massachusetts wreaks havoc on the boat, making Ray wonder if the thing will stay together as the waves rock it to and fro. He tries to warn the ship's captain to curb his speed, but the guy won't listen. Eventually, the boat splits in half, but by manufacturing a makeshift rudder, Ray and the crew keep the boat afloat. And yet, the behemoth continues to sink, and they hope to survive by perching it on a reef. If they can get it onto a reef, they will then wait to see if a rescue team comes to get them.
As Ray and the crew scramble to stay alive, boatswains mate first class Bernard Webber (Chris Pine), a clean cut by-the-book guy if there ever were one, and Seaman Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), his steady, fearless sidekick, take a small ship out to sea to attempt to rescue the Pendleton crew. They face incredible odds and just getting past the breakwater proves to be extremely difficult; they even lose their compass in the process, making it seem as if they'll never find the damaged boat.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Million Dollar Arm), who works from a screenplay written by Scott Silver, Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy that's based on the 2009 book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias, the film benefits from having an authenticity to it. The 3-D special effects certainly add to the drama as the relentless rain and snow seem even more pervasive than they would in 2-D. And even if the love story — Bernie has just proposed to Miriam (Holly Grainger) prior to heading out to sea — seems tacked on, the film doesn't suffer from its feel-good, strictly PG approach. — Jeff Niesel