This uninspired, effects-driven dramatization is ice cold.
The Finest Hours
Studio-financed dramas based on real-life heroism stories are a dime a dozen. We’ve all seen a million of them and pretty much know beat-for-beat how they operate, which is pretty much the same way all Hollywood blockbusters operate. (“Here comes the part where the handsome white man beats impossible odds and saves everyone!”) One always hopes, when one of these incredible-true-story cash-ins comes along, that the filmmakers seize the opportunity they’re given and actually do something interesting and artful.
Regrettably, the opportunity is typically squandered, and such is the case with The Finest Hours, a decent dramatization that’s too restrained and measured to be interesting. A product of Disney, the Craig Gillespie-directed thriller is inspired by the efforts of a handful of Bostonian U.S. Coast Guard rescuers who save around thirty men from a ravaged oil tanker in the middle of the stormy North Atlantic. Such a story sets the foundation for the bevy of visual effects teams to go absolutely ham with digital rain and pummelling waves and sweeping views of raging sea storms. The CGI maelstrom indeed looks pretty impressive, but it’s all stuff we’ve seen before in other, better movies of the same ilk. Plus, oddly enough, despite the chaos surrounding our plucky heroes, it never quite feels like they’re in all that much danger.
In February 1952, an oil tanker was literally ripped in two by a winter storm off the coast of Boston, prompting the Coast Guard to deploy a sizeable team of their best to search for survivors. In a cruel twist of fate, a second tanker in the area, the SS Pendleton, was split in half as well. With the Coast Guard crew’s numbers severely diminished, just four men are sent on a small motorboat to somehow navigate the crushing, freezing waters and locate the Pendleton and its survivors.
They’re led by Bernie Webber, played by an unexpectedly wooden Chris Pine. Webber’s a man’s man, but he’s shy and mildly awkward, socially. Pine doesn’t find any depth within the character, which is a disappointment, though his co-stars feel similarly docile (Ben Foster, playing one of the four rag-taggers, is also uncharacteristically sleepy in his performance). Half of the movie follows what’s left of the Pendleton crew, a collection of archetypes embodied, again, by talented actors seemingly on cruise control. Casey Affleck plays the crew’s impromptu leader, Raymond Sybert, a sort of ship whisperer who devises clever plans to keep the Pendleton afloat until help comes. Raymond, like Bernie, is a softspoken outcast of sorts, their respective journeys parallel and largely flavorless.
We don’t know much about Raymond’s background, but we learn a lot about Bernie’s in the film’s open, which flashes back to the meet-cute between he and his sweetheart, Miriam (Holliday Grainger, who has the lovely look of a classic Hollywood starlet). When Bernie’s out on his impossible rescue mission, we occasionally check in on Miriam, who’s worried into a frenzy, taking much of her frustration out on Bernie’s commanding officer (Eric Bana). Grainger’s gifted, and maybe the nicest thing about the movie is that she’s given ample time to explore Miriam’s different colors of desperation and anger and denial.
The Finest Hours‘ issues really boil down to the fact that it moves forward in such a sleepy fashion that the stakes seem to evaporate into nothing as we watch the actors navigate the uninventive script (by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson) without any vigor or enthusiasm. The generic, sweeping score is relentless in how it dictates the tone of the scenes before the camera or the actors are given a chance to, which is another added frustration. It’s an incredibly bloodless affair, and the ending is so protracted and full of pointless, long stares that I was absolutely itching for the thing to be over.