'The Finest Hours' Takes a Thrilling Rescue and Ruins it With Silly Drama
Chris Pine's predictable new adventure at sea can't stay afloat for long.
Redundant and made with that special Disney coat of wax that values melodrama over authenticity, The Finest Hours is a drenched sea adventure story that'll soon be forgotten. That's unfortunate because the movie is based on actual events that should never be forgotten. The fault then is in the telling.
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 is set in February of 1952 when two massive oil tankers are destroyed by a pummeling nor'easter off the coast of Cape Cod. It's The Perfect Storm meets Titanic. The movie is filled with large-scale action scenes at sea, weepy girlfriends back on shore, terrible New England accents, and monster ships torn apart by Mother Nature.
The Finest Hours, directed by Craig Gillespie, focuses on the rescue of the SS Pendleton, a tanker bound for Boston which sees its bow separated from its hull, stranding 33 crew members on a sinking half ship. Senior officer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) says they've got three hours and he runs the ship aground. As the men hopefully wait for rescue, Sybert must contend with panic and he does so by urging everyone to stick together.
Back in Chatham, a tiny town at the elbow of the Cape, Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is tasked by Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) to lead a rescue mission into the heart of the storm. Facing what seems like sure death, Webber bravely leads a small crew of four in a wooden lifeboat and expertly navigates their way over the dangerous Chatham Sand Bar and into the heart of hurricane force winds and frigid cold to find Sybert and his crew.
The Finest Hours is the type of true story we already know the conclusion to going in (the poster shows the ending, even if you haven't googled "Bernie Webber"). So the "how" is the reason to see it. How does Webber manage to survive the storm in a tiny boat and rescue over 30 men? It's not easy, and the film is packed with impressive action sequences that up the suspense ante. But, with the ending never in doubt, there's no reason to fear for the heroes or crew. Plus, the film lacks the feel of the time period. In typical Disney fashion, little attention is paid to setting apart from costumes. Stylistically, the film feels like it's set in the present.
Gillespie, who once directed Lars and the Real Girl, seems stuck in auto-drive here, typical of a Disney production. The goal is to tell the story with no frills and the director gets it done. But playing things safe does nothing to set the movie apart from all the other sea adventure stories out there.
Likewise, the characters leave much to be desired. Pine and Affleck play all-American types who can do no wrong and are always proved right. Bana is unblinking in the face of duty and the crew of the Pendleton all fit some kind of mold you've seen elsewhere. Plus, the movie forces in a romantic subplot between Webber and his wife Miriam (Holliday Grainger) that hinders the already flimsy narrative. The star of this film is the ocean, everything else comes second, and the movie suffers the same kind of fate as any film that takes a historical event and tries to dramatize it with clichéd fiction.
In creating an action-driven film, Gillespie sacrifices true emotional impact. The Finest Hours works as a pure disaster movie, but it's middle-of-the-pack material. The Perfect Storm may not have been perfect, but at least the ending was always in doubt. Plus, it had that monster wave and the spectacle of that tiny fishing boat climbing a mountain of ocean behind a wide-eyed captain is something we'd never seen before. Gillespie's movie has a sequence like that one, but none of the other scenes will wow you in the same way, despite how technically sound they are. The Finest Hours is a fine adventure, but one without signature.