The Finest Hours

Between this film and The Perfect Storm, these northeast coast jobs must have a strikingly high turnover rate. Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Eric Bana and Academy Award nominee Casey Affleck star in The Finest Hours.

The Finest HoursCast of Characters:
Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber – Chris Pine
Seaman Ray Sybert – Casey Affleck
Richard Livesey – Ben Foster
Miriam Pentinen-Webber – Holliday Grainger
Seaman Wallace Quirey – John Ortiz
Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff – Eric Bana

Director – Craig Gillespie
Screenplay – Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
Based on the book The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue by Casey Sherman & Michael J. Tougias
Producer – Jim Whitaker & Dorothy Aufiero
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril

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Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a crewman at the Coast Guard station on Cape Cop, has fallen in love with a local gal, Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger). Though the two plan to marry in April, it’s Coast Guard regulation that Bernie must seek permission from station commander Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). On the day he is to ask for permission, Bernie is dispatched with three others – Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) – to rescue the oil tanker S.S. Pendleton, which broke in half from a nor’easter off the Chatham Coast.

It’s a risky mission, and save Cluff, who’s a Southern outsider, everyone believes it to be suicide knowing the extremely dangerous weather of the area. However, with time not on the Pendleton’s side, Webber and his men are the only hope they have.

The story of the S.S. Pendleton rescue is one of those historical accounts of American heroism that most Americans probably don’t know about it, and I’ll admit that before hearing about this film, I myself was unaware of the mission. After doing a little bit of homework on the subject, I’m a bit surprised this is just now getting the feature film treatment ’cause it’s a story that is clearly tailor-made for the big screen (it not having been all that well-known might’ve been the reason for that).

And it’s a shame that I walked out of the theater not really caring as much about the situations as I had hoped.

Of course, don’t get me wrong. I say that with all due respect to the real-life heroes that were involved in this mission. There’s no doubt that both the rescuers and the rescued went through quite an ordeal. Venturing out into the Atlantic during a nor’easter to save the crew of a split down the middle oil tanker is dangerous enough. Doing so during an unforgiving New England winter is even worse. The bravery these men showed is unquestionable, but The Finest Hours doesn’t quite capture the danger they actually faced while on their mission.

The lack of edge isn’t that surprising, and not simply ’cause it’s from Disney. This is definitely in the vein of their obligatory annual feel-good, inspirational biopic, but Mickey and Co. are definitely capable of putting together a genuinely inspirational film and have done so before. Remember the Titans, Miracle and last year’s McFarland, USA are strong examples, but for every one that works, there’s a Cool Runnings, Glory Road or Million Dollar Arm. And speaking of the well-intentioned but overbearingly warm and fuzzy Million Dollar Arm, The Finest Hours comes to us courtesy of director Craig Gillespie (the director of the highly quirky and unique Lars and the Real Girl and a whole lotta nothing else aside from that), who fills the film up with enough “gee gosh golly williker” sentiment to drive even the most optimistic soul up the wall.

I know it was the ’50s and all, but come on.

The film is at its strongest onboard the Pendleton, where Casey Affleck and ensemble of fine character actors (John Ortiz, Graham McTavish, Abraham Benrubi) fight to stay alive. It’s during those scenes that Gillespie manages to bring a much-needed sense of urgency, where every dire minute spent and every life-altering decision made by Affleck and his costars matter.

Why the film then is so disappointing is ’cause the mission to rescue them lacks that same sense of urgency, nor does the film bother to explain how such a difficult mission is able to be accomplished. Did they will themselves across those waves with all their might? Both Chris Pine and Ben Foster, the two most recognizable faces of the four rescuers, try their best (though it seemed like Foster had only six lines in the entire film), but their side of the story is surprisingly bland. You’d think, given the harsh environment of the Chatham Bar (or as they’d say in Boston, the baaaahhhh) and their mode of transportation, a dinky speedboat smaller than the desk I’m typing this review on, that the danger would sell itself. Well, those that thought it couldn’t be hard, think again,’cause apparently it is for Gillespie.

Plus, there are certain things that occur, or I should say don’t occur, that don’t make any sense. These four are in a boat so small it might as well be a canoe, driving through the Atlantic off the coast of New England, of all places, in the winter, surrounded by freezing temperatures and icy waters, yet it’s like it doesn’t even affect them. I mean, they’re getting doused by waves, and at times the boat even submerges into the ocean. You’d think they’d be covered in goosebumps and ice, if not suffering with a horrid case of hypothermia. Then, after they rescue Affleck and his crew, they get back to the coast and I swear I didn’t spot a single ambulance waiting for them.

Whatever, though, it’s not like any of them nearly died or anything.

Meanwhile, the scenes on back home on the mainland fair no better. Eric Bana is an underrated actor, but he’s saddled with a horrible Southern accent. The lovely Holliday Grainger has a striking presence that screams ’40s-50s Hollywood startlet, which makes her perfectly suited for this film’s era, but despite bringing some spark to her role, Gillespie doesn’t know how to fit her into the story.

It’s evident that those involved in the making of The Finest Hours have nothing but the best of intentions for this film, and it’s a heroic true story that deserves to be told to the many Americans that may not have previously known about it. However, despite its earnestness and the equally earnest work from the talented cast, it lacks the edge and urgency a gripping account such as this needs. The true story is an incredible tale of bravery; the movie version is unfortunately a toothless, albeit well-acted, product of Disney that chooses to play it safe.

I give The Finest Hours a C (★★½).

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