Blu-ray Review: The Finest Hours

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Disney's The Finest Hours is a textbook case on how to take a gripping historical event and turn it into something frustratingly disengaging. In 1952, a small Coast Guard unit out of Chatham, Massachusetts set out to rescue the surviving crew members of the oil tanker SS Pendleton. In the midst of a crippling nor'easter, the Pendleton was literally cut clear in half. The bow stayed afloat while the stern sank, claiming the lives of several men. Under the shaky leadership of Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), Boatswain's Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is tasked with locating the tanker. The 36-foot Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG-36500 is Webber's rescue vehicle, built to hold only a dozen people. Webber and his small crew have zero idea exactly where the tanker is, nor do they know how many survivors are aboard.

In short, a great story hampered by partially botched execution. To be clear, the rescue scenes are thrilling. Director Craig Gillespie (who helmed the great remake of Fright Night in 2011) puts us at the center of the fierce storm as Webber's lifeboat faces towering waves as it blindly searches for the Pendleton. While the tanker's crew is portrayed basically as a collection of one-note cliches, the dread they experience as they brainstorm ideas for saving themselves is palpable.

That said, The Finest Hours is at its least-fine whenever it ventures back to the Cape Cod mainland. The whole rescue story is framed by a romance between Bernie and fiance Miriam (Holliday Grainger). She's steadfastly against the rescue mission, believing Cluff is sending Bernie and his crew to certain death. Given that Bernie believes in his mission (and the fact that we, the viewers, already know there are quite a few survivors aboard the Pendleton), it makes sympathizing with Miriam very difficult. She comes off like a selfish, coldhearted shrew. Her subsequent minor car accident is a bizarrely inconsequential sidebar that keeps interrupting coverage of the high-stakes rescue. Nothing involving Miriam feels necessary, yet her parallel story consumes a significant amount of screen time. 
Finest Hours BD cover (326x380).jpg Luckily Disney's Blu-ray includes a concise (14 minutes) but informative featurette about the real heroism of the late Bernie Webber, "Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story." The remaining four featurettes are brief, EPK-style pieces (each ranging from just one to two minutes). The Blu-ray also features a pair of deleted scenes.

As for the technical presentation, Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography is showed off beautifully in the Blu-ray's 1080p transfer. The very dark, nighttime-set rescue scenes manage to display incredible detail. The audio presentation is arguably even better, with a DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix that includes just the right amount of bombast during action scenes. Oscar-nominated composer Carter Burwell's rousing score is nicely showcased as well.

The Finest Hours focuses on a worthy chapter of maritime history. It is partially gripping, but also partially dull. Mildly recommendable, primarily as a way of letting more people know about Bernie Webber and those who assisted in the Pendleton rescue.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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