By Mark Gauert
We know all the Navy’s stories.
Admiral Farragut damning the torpedoes. The Bonhomme Richard broadsiding the Serapis. The Pacific Fleet giving Godzilla heck at the Golden Gate Bridge.
So many of the Navy’s stories are so well known through movies, helmed by such captains courageous as Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Steven Seagal.
But the Coast Guard’s stories? Not so well known. (Wait, wasn’t Bruce Willis in the Coast Guard in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom? Close, but, no, he was more of a boat-borne sheriff who appeared to have intermittent access to a steam iron).
All that changes with The Finest Hours, a decks-fully-awash account of the “greatest small boat rescue’’ in U.S. Coast Guard history, based on a best-seller by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias. It’s an old-fashioned corker.
The four men who put into the icy Atlantic from the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Mass, in February 1952 were up against a foe as dreadful as any the Navy has ever faced in the movies. (With the possible exception of Godzilla). An epic nor’easter out there has already ripped apart the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker sailing to Boston, sending the bow half to the bottom and stranding the remaining crew on the stern – including Casey Affleck, admirably channeling Jimmy Stewart as best he can as ship engineer Ray Sybert – bobbing in 60-foot seas like cork.
Coast Guard Capt. Bernie Webber (played with admirable restraint by Chris Pine) damns torpedoes, compasses and any reasonable second thoughts his three-man crew might have about the mission to get out there and save the Pendleton’s crew. Because, roughly in order, those are his orders, his job and the right thing to do. (Did we mention “old-fashioned”?)
“In the Coast Guard they say you got to go out,” Webber says. “they don’t say you got to come back in.”
Steely men, these, in their 36-foot wooden rescue boat, long before advances in water-resistant marine-wear fabrics.
As Webber’s fiancé, Miriam, Holliday Grainger provides powerful incentive to come back. She is a spitfire in a sensible dress here – more than enough star for director Craig Gillespie to steer the simmering courtship by. (Holliday Grainger. Remember that name).
To say more, though, would be to spoil the material, in the nautical sense.
Will Miriam’s man make it back to keep their wedding date? Will the intrepid crew find their way to the stricken ship remnant through impossible storm surges and hurricane-force winds? Will a sea like that, swallow them all whole? (Quint, wasn’t he a Navy man in Jaws, too?).
Or will the Coast Guard finally – and deservedly – have its foul-weather day.
The Finest Hours
Directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz and Eric Bana, opens on Friday, Jan. 29. In Digital 3D™, Real D 3D and IMAX® 3D. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Photo: Chris Pine at the helm of The Finest Hours.