The Finest Hours (2016) / Drama-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of peril
Running Time: 117 min.
Cast: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, Graham McTavish, Michael Raymond-Jaymes, Abraham Benrubi, Rachel Brosnahan
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (based on the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias)
Review published January 29, 2016
Based on a true story, The Finest Hours is set mostly in winter of 1952, where, off of the snowy coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, an oil tanker called the SS Pendleton would be split in half due to a vicious nor'easter and massive 60-foot swells, with one half sinking immediately to the bottom of the ocean, while the other half sinking much more slowly, with the thirty-three men on board desperate to try to figure out a way to stay alive in the freezing, turbulent chaos, hoping to figure out how to run the half-ship aground until they can be rescued. Chris Pine (Z for Zachariah, Into the Woods) stars as Bernie Webber, the meek Coast Guard recruit assigned to try to mount a four-man rescue mission in a small 36-foot craft through the heart of the storm and whatever men he can find back to shore.
Much of The Finest Hours is a very Hollywood-ized telling of a relatively simple, inspirational story. The bifurcated plotline not only shows us the efforts of the Coast Guard and their peril in mounting a rescue mission, but also features the men of the Pendleton, headed by an engineer played by a ponderous Casey Affleck (Interstellar, Out of the Furnace), trying to keep from drifting aimlessly until they inevitably sink, which would happen only in a matter of hours, if they can't find a way to get the ship to ground before they're flooded. There's also a completely needless third major story element involving Bernie and his spunky girlfriend Miriam (Grainger, Cinderella), their courtship, engagement, and her subsequent efforts to try to stick her nose in all sorts of places where it doesn't belong and provoke lots of confrontations and resolutions that are too contrived to be believable. Interestingly, the true story is that Bernie and Miriam had been married nearly two years prior to the events of this film, and Miriam had been in bed with the flu for the duration of these events, but Hollywood prefers happy beginnings to make for their happy endings, as they say.
Despite a quality cast of solid character actors, The Finest Hours suffers from the imbalance in its story-telling, which relies far too heavily on the bombastic effort to wow us with near-cataclysmic storm effects. Those effects are so front and center that they figuratively drown out the ability of the stock movie characterizations to come to life, rendering much of the dialogue to be very pat, the actions they undertake quite predictable, and, subsequently, it fails to be the true nail-biter in tension that it should have been to make the adventure feel worthwhile. While the film is technically impressive in its effects work, most of the film looks like it was rendered on computers, and most of the acting performances done in front of green-screen technology, so even those elements where we should be floored by all of the heroic feats the men have to perform feel muted by the artifice of the obvious CGI embellishments.
While the true small-scale but inspirational story underneath the several coats of visual effects and Hollywood hogwash may have been one worthy of telling, unfortunately, the effort to make the The Finest Hours a rousing, crowd-pleasing, borderline disaster movie blockbuster perpetually undermines the credibility necessary to find any of what happens emotionally stirring or thrilling, leading to an eye-rolling finale that feels excessively exaggerated to the point of pure fiction. They say that one should, "Go big or go home", but the effort here to go big on every one of the narrative elements keeps the over-inflated beats within The Finest Hours from ever leaving the docks.
©2016 Vince Leo