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Harrowing action bolsters heroic true story in 'The Finest Hours'
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"THE FINEST HOURS" 3 stars Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Matthew Maher, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger; PG-13 (intense sequences of peril); in general release

The Finest Hours is a solid movie about a remarkable true story: the rescue of 32 crew members from a stranded oil freighter off the coast of Massachusetts in the early 1950s.

The film sets its stage with a little background on its protagonist. Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is a young Petty Officer 1st Class in the Coast Guard trying to shake the guilt of a failed rescue some months previous. Encouragement comes in the form of a spunky young woman named Miriam (Holliday Grainger). After some uneventful courtship, Miriam asks Bernie to marry her, and with a little convincing, he agrees.

Bernie is hesitant because of the dangerous nature of his job, and his worries are justified soon after their engagement. A massive storm off the coast is so brutal that it snaps a pair of oil freighters in half. One is never onscreen; the other becomes the center of action for the film.

We join the SS Pendleton right as the storm is bending and straining its hull, but against the advice of chief engineer Raymond Sybert (Casey Affleck), the captain refuses to slow the ship down. Within minutes, his determination proves fatal, and half the ship snaps off and sinks.

Fortunately, the tanker is near enough to shore that a local named Carl Nickerson (Matthew Maher) is able to hear its emergency signal, and as word reaches the Coast Guard, The Finest Hours divides its story between the stranded oil workers and the small Coast Guard crew led by Bernie that is sent to save them.

From here, The Finest Hours is less about plot twists than just enduring the insurmountable odds of the perilous situation. In order to get to the ship, Webber has to brave blinding waves and somehow get past a sand bar that will likely smash his small boat to pieces. The sequence showing The Chathams approach is the dramatic highlight of the film.

In the meantime, Sybert is trying to hold an increasingly panicked crew together. In order to survive, he has to convince them to forget about lifeboats and instead try to rig a manual rudder system that will guide them to shallow waters before the ship sinks.

Theres also some drama back on the shore. Miriam barges her way into the Coast Guard station to confront Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), who many believe knowingly sent Webber on a suicide mission.

But the real action is out on the water, and that is where The Finest Hours thrives. As far as inspiring true stories go, director Craig Gillespies film feels mostly routine and depends on the intensity of its largely linear story to hold the audiences attention. Pine and Affleck are strong in their roles, even if they arent quite given enough to transcend their characters.

In many ways, Finest Hours feels reminiscent of The Perfect Storm, another dramatic film based on a true story set in New England waters. But where Perfect Storm had to invent a lot of its content to fill in narrative gaps, you feel like what you are seeing in Finest Hours is a little more reliable.

Gillespie has done a solid job of sharing an inspiring story, even if it feels a little safe. (He also directed 2014s Million Dollar Arm, which shared a similar upbeat tone.) If youre looking for an uplifting experience at the movie theater, The Finest Hours is a good bet.

"The Finest Hours" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril; running time: 117 minutes
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