Starring Chris Pine, Disney sought to make a splash in the January film graveyard with “The Finest Hours,” a story based on the real life Coast Guard rescue noted for being the largest small-boat rescue in history, on a history making day when two T2 oil tankers, The Fort Mercer and the Pendleton split in half.
Make a splash it did, but not quite as large as they were hoping. The 1952 events surrounding the rescue of the Pendleton tanker are fraught with danger and heroism, but the the added romance subplot drags the film down faster than the water did the tanker. This issue begins at the start, with twenty minutes devoted to developing the lackluster romantic stakes before the boats even hit the churning water. It takes the jarring sight of the split tanker to finally get the film moving.
With that, our hero, Bernie Webber(Pine) transforms from self-conscious fiance and self-doubting hesitant Coast Guard member due to a past rescue gone wrong, into a confident captain bent on saving the crew of a ship no one knew was sinking until it was almost too late. With his three man crew(Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner and John Magaro) and a boat made to fit 12, Webber crosses the New England sandbar in a monstrous nor’easter, losing his compass in the hair-raising process, and heads out to open sea in frigid temperatures and whipping wind and precipitation.
While Webber works to get to the failing stern of the tanker, we see the remaining 33 members of the crew fight amongst themselves until engineer Ray Sybert(Casey Affleck), a quiet man who speaks more ship than English, takes charge and gets the crew to work together. Sybert ultimately saves the crew perhaps even more than Webber, by presenting idea after idea when the boat looks dead set on sinking, to keep her afloat until help arrives. It is Affleck’s charisma in the role that floats these scenes with a cool-headed approach to danger that makes the viewer believe he can pull it out just long enough to save his men.
The scenes on the rolling ocean are tense and tight and by far what drives the movie. When we switch back to land to the harried Miriam(Holliday Grainger), Webber’s spit-fire fiancee, she is making more trouble than help in adjusting to the role of a Coast Guard spouse, and this anchor sinks more than secures the movie. The climax of the film lies when Webber is catching and collecting the men at sea as they abandon ship, not when they reach land with 32 survivors and he embraces Miriam with an eye on the wedding day and more self-confidence.
Overall, “The Finest Hours” is a movie that is effortless to watch, until you cringe at the hokey romantic subplot. It’s problem lies squarely in the love story it forces upon the audience, and it is the jumping back and forth from the rescue effort to the issues on land that robs the audience of their emotional payoff at the end. Had the movie focused squarely on the rescue and survival of both crews in this unbelievable situation, I would argue it would have even performed well during the build up to awards season.
Also, don’t waste your money on the 3D. The film is too dark for the effect requiring glasses that darken the experience even more and its purely for depth of picture.
“The Finest Hours” is rated PG-13 for intense sequence of peril. Directed by Craig Gillespie, it was a solid B-effort from Disney and all those involved.