The Finest Hours is a 2016 American historical disaster drama film directed by Craig Gillespie and produced by Walt Disney Pictures from a screenplay written by Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, and Paul Tamasy, based on The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. The film stars Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, and Eric Bana, and chronicles the true account of the 1952 United States Coast Guard rescue of the SS Pendleton, after it split apart during a nor’easter off the New England coast.
Bernard “Bernie” Webber, a crewman at the Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, has fallen in love with a local girl, Miriam Pentinen. The two plan to marry on April 16, but in accordance with Coast Guard regulations, Bernie must seek permission from the station’s commander, Daniel Cluff. On the day he is due to ask permission, Bernie is dispatched to pilot his lifeboat, CG 36500, to rescue the oil tanker, SS Pendleton, which has broken in half off the Chatham coast after getting caught in a nor’easter. Bernie selects Andrew Fitzgerald, Ervin Maske, and Richard P. Livesey as his crew.
Meanwhile, the Pendelton’s engineer organizes the surviving crew to steer the sinking stern of the tanker onto a submerged reef, where it can lodge until rescuers arrive.
When Miriam hears about Bernie’s mission, she, like a number of other townspeople, thinks this is a suicide mission. Few people in Chatham trust Cluff, since he isn’t from the area and doesn’t know its treacherous weather. Miriam even goes as far as to drive to the station and urge Cluff to call Bernie back. Cluff refuses, and brusquely orders Miriam out.
Between the Chatham harbor and the open sea, lies a bar (shoal) that becomes dangerous in stormy weather. Bernie must time bursts of his engine to ride each approaching wave before it breaks as he pilots his rescue boat across the bar.
Bernie steers CG 36500 to the stricken tanker, even though he loses his compass along the way. Even though his boat is only designed to take on 12 people, Bernie manages to rescue 32 crewmen. The stern of the Pendleton begins sinking more rapidly during the rescue and goes down shortly after the rescue is completed. Relying on his knowledge of the coast and prevailing winds in place of his compass, Bernie steers the CG 36500 toward home–a task made more difficult as Chatham loses power. However, Miriam and the other townspeople drive their cars to the pier and turn on their headlights to guide Bernie in.
A closing segment briefly documents the aftermath of the rescue using photographs from the actual events. Two months later, Bernie and Miriam are married; they stay together for 58 years until Bernie’s death in 2009. Webber and his crew receive the Gold Lifesaving Medal.