This true-life 1952 saga at sea doesn't reinvent the genre or show off with nonstop bells and whistles. But The Finest Hours gets the job done, just like its central character. He'd be Coast Guard sailor Bernie Webber (a charisma-hiding Chris Pine), a strong, silent type who finds himself in command of a Massachusetts rescue boat when a nor'easter wrecks havoc in the winter waters off Cape Cod.
The ship in distress is the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker that has split in half due to the storm, leaving the Pendleton's chief engineer, Ray Sybert (a sharp, subtle Casey Affleck), in charge of the survivors (nine of the Pendleton's 41 crew were already lost). That means Webber had to head out to sea at night in a flimsy motor lifeboat with a crew that only included Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro). The wooden, 36-foot rescue boat can barely handle a dozen men. How is it going to fit 32 survivors? The whole endeavor spells suicide mission: Before the lifeboat boat can even reach the Pendleton it has to make it past the lethal Chatham Bars, crashing waves that threaten to run the boat aground.
Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) only gets his mojo working when he jettisons the bilge in the script by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson that keeps flashing back to Webber's romance with Miriam (Holliday Grainger), a firecracker who wants her man saved, even if she has to badger his boss, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). On the waves, The Finest Hours finally finds its sea legs and delivers an old-school adventure based on a heroic deliverance that deserves its day in the sun.