Two Very "Fine" Films

I was recently riffling through my collection of video discs, searching for one to use to use as a source in a review, when 2017's The Finest Hours dropped into my hands for the first time years. It's the true story of the nearly impossible rescue of an oil tanker, the SS Pendleton caught in a furious February 1952 nor'easter off Chatham Massachusetts on Cape Cod. It remains the most incredible small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history. Coast Guard Petty Officer Bernie Webber and his small crew set out in a 32-foot boat to save the tanker's 32 surviving crewmen.

A subplot involves Webber's fiancée and how she copes with the crisis. Like Bernie, she's based on a real character, but there's only enough of her story here to provide context and let viewers catch their collective breath.

The main drama alternates between the Coast Guard action and the crew aboard the doomed tanker, the latter split in two with the front going down quickly and the rear slowly sinking. My latest viewing reminded me of just how compelling this movie this is, with no need for typical action movie embellishments. Unfortunately the film has slowly sunk (pardon the expression) under the radar. But I can't think of another movie more loaded than this one with seat-of-the pants tension and eye-popping action. There's something about a true story (even with a likely touch of Hollywood) that no make-believe, superhero film can quite match. You smile at the latter; you gasp at the former and want to look around for a life vest. I swallowed hard more than once even on a re-watch.

To reach the tanker (and there was no guarantee that they could) the small rescue boat had to get over the Chatham Bar (pronounced "baa" in Massachusetts), a rough patch separating the rescue boat from its anchorage and the open ocean. In severe weather this area was as deadly as the coast of New England ever gets, the bar's interaction with its environment producing swells of up to 70-feet and making it nearly impossible to cross. There have been thousands of recorded shipwrecks in this region over the centuries.

The photography and video transfer here are good but very dark as he story takes place mostly at night. The film is still available on Blu-ray (it was never released in 4K HDR). You can also get it streamed from Prime Video. Multichannel audio, when streamed together with video, is invariably lossy (digitally compressed to conserve transmission space). Nonetheless, streaming can be very good, but go for the Blu-ray if you can. You'll want to watch it more than once!

The cast is excellent; this might well be Chris Pine's best performance to date. The 2017 film runs 142 minutes with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and is rated PG-13.

Their Finest
I sometimes get the names of the two films here confused because of the word "finest" in their titles. But this is a very different film, connected to the one above only in that ships are involved (though here only peripherally). It's not in any way an action film, but rather a thoughtfully crafted British dramedy.

It's 1940 and the WWII London Blitz (the German bombings) is in full swing. British morale is low, and the small films and short subjects that the British Ministry of Information is cranking out to raise peoples' spirits aren't helping much. When Catrin Cole lands a position there as an assistant screenwriter she's first assigned to write the "slop" (the women's dialogue that the male screenwriters can't quite get right). Yes, there's a touch of feminism in the film, but it's well-earned and not overwrought. But Catrin earns her keep soon enough when her small crew's task turns into making a full-length film about a real incident that occurred (or perhaps not) during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The producers of that film (that is, the film-within-a-film) also want to influence America to join in the war. To that end they hire an American for a part in their movie. Not just any American but a pilot in the Royal Air Force (not uncommon before the U.S. entered the war in late 1941). By using an American RAF pilot they're certain Americans will see the film and be moved by it. But the pilot is a terrible actor and requires extensive coaching. That task falls to Ambrose Hilliard, a proud but fading actor and part of the cast in the Dunkirk film. He's played here with brilliant, reserved wit by British actor Bill Nighy.

If that's all were to Their Finest the film might be marginally entertaining. But there are unexpected twists and turns along the way that elevate the result from an interesting period piece to (a least for me) a guilty pleasure. And now if you'll excuse me, I want to go watch it again.

Unlike above, the actors here are mostly little known in the U.S. (except perhaps for Bill Nighy). But the cast is superb. The 2016 film runs for 117 minutes with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film is rated R, but mostly for about 10 seconds of partial nudity. The transfer isn't in HDR and the Blu-ray may be difficult to find. It wasn't available on Amazon when I checked recently, but it can be streamed from Prime Video.

COMMENTS
dommyluc's picture

...is also streaming on Disney+. And Chris Pine is very good in the movie, but I think he was better in "Hell or High Water" (really great movie, BTW, streaming on HULU, I believe).

Melyssa Mayert's picture

This film is a thrilling and very engaging story that shows the indomitable spirit of human will and the extraordinary effort that humans are capable of to help those in need. Well worth a look! review : geometry dash lite

wkaysee23's picture

There's an element of the bittersweet in the way things are resolved that is why this is a good movie to watch. Well worth a look! review : Stump Removal Sioux City

viloka's picture

This is so amazing, great minds think alike I just wrote a similar post on this topic! You should check it out. moto x3m

Ehto's picture

I am always impressed by movies that tell a true story in a highly captivating way. The boat rescue of SS Pendleton is a legendary tale, and this movie certainly fits the bill. Our team at Gutter Cleaning Newport love to have a movie night on Thursdays, and I will recommend this movie. Thanks Sound & Vision!

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