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I’ve always loved films that delve into the psyches of the true heroes of our world. Not action heroes or superheroes, but the real people who make the tough calls and are willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good. I’m talking about people like Bernie Webber, the remarkable man behind the true story of Disney’s The Finest Hours.
In 1952, Bernie led what is regarded as the “greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history.” When a record breaking storm hits off the coast of Cape Cop, two oil tankers are simultaneously ripped in half. This unthinkable event propels Bernie into a rescue mission to that seemed like nothing short of a death sentence. Having been assigned to find and rescue the crew of the SS Pendleton, Bernie would have to overcome giant waves, a lost compass and the constant threat of hypothermia. In doing so, he had to constantly weigh the risks and make life-or-death situations that ended up saving the lives of almost seaman on board.
Making things even more tense, the sequences of Bernie trying to find the Pendleton are intercut with the struggle of the Pendleton’s crew itself. Their struggle to stay alive is just as harrowing as Bernie’s struggle to find them. The filmmakers have crafted an extraordinarily tense environment where every decision could lead to the destruction of their ship. With no communication to the outside world, they don’t even know if anybody is coming for them, and they are forced to just try to survive while waiting for the inevitable.
A film like this wouldn’t work without a fantastic cast for the audience to identify with. Every character in the film feels true-to-life.Their journey is an emotional rollercoaster that the filmmakers masterfully use to bring the audience to the edge of their seat. Particular standouts are Chris Pine as Webber himself and Casey Affleck as Ray Sybert, the man forced into the role of caption after the destruction of their ship. Both men convey a steely resolve to survive that is captivating to watch.
On a technical level, the film is a little sketchy. By nature of the story, there has to be a lot of CGI, and while it’s perfectly serviceable, it isn’t always what I’d call believable. Far more effective is the set built for the Pendleton. Practically a character in and of itself, this is a breathtaking setpiece, shot with a masterful eye. This set looks to be several stories tall with a great deal of moving parts. Throughout the movie, as the set is flooded, I couldn’t help but think of the incredible craftsmanship that must have gone into developing a set such as this.
However, despite what works and doesn’t work on a technical level, this is a movie all about the characters and story, and on that level, it’s a complete success. The movie takes it’s time to get out to sea, allowing us to get to know these characters, especially the relationship between Webber and his fiance, Mariam. This is one of those aspects of the film that I would have believed to be crafted for audience manipulation, but in researching the true story afterwards, I was amazed at how accurate the depictions of these characters actually was.
Unfortunately, the recently released Blu-Ray is pretty bare bones. There is a 15 minute short look at the real Webber featuring interviews with several people who were there for the real event, and most fascinating, an interview with his actual daughter. The pride in her face is evident, and it’s a joy to watch her speak about her family. Other than that, there are two short deleted scenes, and while nothing special, they do show some incomplete FX work that really demonstrates how the film was made. Rounding out the disc are several features running 1-2 minutes that play up the real heroes of the Coast Guard, but don’t provide any insight into the film itself. I would have liked to have seen some behind-the-scenes Making-Of type features, but there are none to be found. Picture and sound are as great as expected.
The Story of How They Met – Deleted Scene
Overall, the film is far better than the extras would lead you to believe. This feels like a slapped together disc of a great movie. This film is truly inspiring. While there are several options for Bernie and his crew to back out and go home, they never do. It’s amazing that there are people among us just like this, and if nothing else, that reminder makes this a worthwhile film.
A Desperate Idea – Deleted Scene