The Finest Hours is a respectful dramatization of the real-life events that inspired it, but is too by the numbers to leave a strong impression.
The Finest Hours largely takes place in February of 1952 off the coast of Massachusetts, where a massive winter storm causes not just one, but two oil tankers – the SS Fort Mercer and SS Pendleton – to split in half, leaving their crews to the mercy of the raging sea. While the Pendleton‘s crew, including the first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) struggle to keep their remaining half of the ship afloat, they face an even bigger problem: most of the available Coast Guard’s forces have already been deployed to help the Mercer‘s crew and they won’t be able to reach the Pendleton in time to rescue its survivors before they lose power and are swallowed by the ocean.
The Pendleton‘s only hope lies with a small lifeboat manned by Station Chatham Coast Guard member Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and his crew, who agree to undertake what their peers agree is an all-but hopeless cause: brave the freezing temperatures and 70-foot waves of the ocean storm and rescue the thirty-something men trapped on the Pendleton, bringing them in safely to land. With time not on their side, Bernie and his three-man team head out to sea, determined to see their job done – while Bernie’s fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger) does everything in her power to help with the cause and make sure her future husband returns safely, back in Chatham.
Inspired by real-life events as they were depicted in Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tourgias’ 2009 non-fiction book “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue”, The Finest Hours is an unabashed throwback to an old-fashioned storytelling approach to stories of bravery and honor – one that was in fashion in Hollywood around the time of the film’s events in the 1950s, as it were. Although The Finest Hours avoids coming off as kitschy or schmaltzy with its approach, the film nonetheless relies heavily on inspirational true story narrative conventions and fails to make the tropes of its classic storytelling form feel fresh or inventive. The Finest Hours‘ romance subplot with Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Holliday Grainger’s (Cinderella) character is equally good-natured as the rest of the film, but too thinly drawn to resonate in the manner intended.
The Fighter screenwriters Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamsay penned the adapted script for The Finest Hours, but the latter lacks the richer characterization and energy that elevated David O. Russell’s (very different) true story-based film above its own genre cliches. To be fair, The Finest Hours certainly has qualities worthy of admiration, such as the commendable performances from its ensemble cast and admirable craftsmanship alike (more on that shortly); problem is, for a movie that’s based on the “Most Daring Sea Rescue” that was performed by the U.S. Coast Guard in history, The Finest Hours is far less remarkable than the real-world events and people that inspired it.
Director Craig Gillespie has proven himself capable of crafting both passable true story-inspired Disney films (Million Dollar Arm) and 3D movies alike in the past (Fright Night), and he once again reaches the bar in both respects on The Finest Hours. The film come to life the most during the sequences that are set aboard either the SS Pendleton or Webber’s lifeboat, as said intimidating winter storm is effectively recreated through a combination of practical effects and CGI on the whole – though, certain scenes (in particular, those that take place on land) are less seamless, when it comes to how they blend real sets and locations with digital backdrops. Overall, though, The Finest Hours works as a story of men battling the natural elements that shouldn’t be too intense for younger moviegoers (it’s a “soft” PG-13 movie) – but may not pack as much of a punch for older filmgoers who’ve seen this type of adventure tale done before (and better) on the big screen.
Gillespie and his his production team – including Fright Night cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe – also draw from an unsaturated color palette and use various visual techniques (see: immersive camera shots, constant rain and/or snowfall) to further imbue the audience with the chilling atmosphere of the film’s setting. The Finest Hours isn’t a must-see in theaters, but those who do check it out might as well pay the high ticket price for a 3D screening and get the full viewing experience (where it concerns the film’s spectacle and action sequences, anyway), for these reasons. That said, those who aren’t fans of 3D as a general rule will not lose too much by instead watching The Finest Hours in 2D, either.
Chris Pine and Casey Affleck share protagonist duties in The Finest Hours – and though Bernie Webber and Ray Sybert in the movie are both portrayed as different variations on the reluctant hero type (with familiar character arcs too), the actors behind them do fine work in those roles. Similarly, the various members of the Coast Guard – including Eric Bana (Star Trek) as by-the-book Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff and Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) as hardened Seaman Richard Livesey – are not developed beyond being recognizable two-dimensional “types”; nor are the members of the Pendleton’s crew like Graham McTavish (The Hobbit) as veteran mate Frank Fauteux, despite the good performances by the actors behind them. The Finest Hours does make a valiant efforts to give Holliday Grainger as Miriam a satisfying storyline, but a chunk of her own plot thread ends up feeling like much ado about nothing.
The short of it? The Finest Hours is a respectful dramatization of the real-life events that inspired it, but is too by the numbers to leave a strong impression. The film’s homage to old-fashioned Hollywood tales of men proving their worth in the face of insurmountable odds is well-intentioned, but only sporadically comes to life – more often thanks to the 3D spectacle and elements of the film, rather than its story or characters. The Finest Hours does a good enough job of telling a worthwhile story about everyday acts of heroism to earn the movie a pass, but the real life “U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue” was no doubt more impressive (and daring) that the big screen version.
The Finest Hours is now playing in U.S. theaters in the 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D formats. It is 117 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril.
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