by Ian M. Woodington
The Finest Hours tells the story of four men who, in February of 1952, undertook one of the most daring rescue attempts in the history of the Unites States Coast Guard. A tanker, the SS Pendleton, is caught in a storm off the coast of New England and is ripped in half, leaving more than 30 sailors adrift and sinking. While Bernard Webber (Chris Pine) leads an impossible rescue in a lifeboat designed to hold only 12, his fiancée, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), struggles to come to terms with what it means to be the wife of a man who has to willingly risk his life for others.
Year after year, it proves out. January is just not a good month for cinema. With one hand, the studios campaign for award season glory and with the other, dump their trash. That’s not to say The Finest Hours is total garbage. Even I’m not that cynical to unconditionally condemn something that shines a light on the triumph of the human spirit when faced with insurmountable odds. It’s just that there is only about one-third of a good film here. Anytime the crew of the Pendelton was onscreen, I was captivated. Their struggle for survival and their feats of engineering under incredible pressure make for riveting entertainment and should have been a film unto itself. These scenes unfortunately are interspaced with and, more often than not, forced to take a back seat to paint-by-numbers dialogue, two-dimensional caricatures (both disappointing when you consider the three writers on this film were behind The Fighter) and a shockingly abrasive score during the main U.S. Coast Guard narrative. And yes, it may be called The Finest Hours, but if that’s the title they’re going with a little more effort should have been put into the rescuers, as opposed to those being rescued. Overall, we’re deprived of a sense of urgency, in what is supposed to be a race against time, and an intimacy with any character performed well enough to be worth caring about.
At least this isn’t a complete waste of an all-star cast. I’ll ease off on Chris Pine, tempted as I might be to pick on him. After having fumbled his way through both Captain Kirk and Jack Ryan, doing so now in a flick produced by Disney would feel rather like a cheap shot. Instead it’s fairer to write off the other, usually more dependable leads and praise Casey Affleck, who alone makes The Finest Hours watchable. Ironically, he plays the man who has to keep not only half a ship afloat, but an entire crew together. Between Eric Bana’s overstatement, Ben Foster’s understatement, and a questionable casting choice in Holliday Grainger, Affleck is heads above the rest when it comes to making courage and sentiment ring true.
A regrettable execution notwithstanding, better can and should have been done to honor these distinguished service members and viewers looking for a storytelling standard above the level of your average Hallmark original are advised to look elsewhere. Try, for instance, Oliver Stone’s (not as controversial as we all thought it was going to be) World Trade Center for a better example of how these tales of perseverance and survival are supposed to be done.
2 out of 5
Second Review by Ryan Guerra
Based on a true story, The Finest Hours tells the story about the greatest United States Coast Guard rescue of all time. From the 1950s, the film tells how as small boat of cost guardsmen risked their lives to save 30+ men aboard a sinking oil tanker during one of the worst storms to hit the east coast.
Chris Pine plays Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber. Bernie is an unassuming, quite man who plays things by the book and does what is expected of him because it is the right thing to do. This role is the opposite of anything we have seen Pine in thus far. Normally, he is out front, showing off his good looks and charming personality. However this film gives Pine an opportunity to show some range that we have not seen from him thus far in his career. And he does not disappoint. Pine shows that he can present the quiet reserve of an emotional moment.
Those moments are best shared across from Holliday Grainger who plays Bernie’s fiancé Miriam. Where Bernie is quiet snowfall, Miriam is sizzling fire. Grainger embodies a 1950’s female who can only live up to social norms for a woman before she burst opens and acts on impulse and speaks her mind. The two make a nice pair on film.
Meanwhile, on the sinking oil tanker, Casey Affleck plays engine room head Ray Sybert. Sybert knows the ship and when the crew find themselves in a bind, they all look towards Sybert who keeps his cool in the time of peril. Affleck also plays a role in a quiet reserve that seems thoughtful as much as it is cool under pressure.
And here is where they film hits the preverbal seawall. Pine and Affleck are the main characters who which we experience this extremely dangerous and daring rescue. However their quiet reserve is constantly contrasting the dangerous and powerful waves and storm that is shown through solid cinema effect. The storm reminds us how small we can be as humans to the forces of nature. But that danger is diminished by both Pine and Affleck’s quiet performance. At no point did they lose that demeanor or make us feel they were actually scared. That isn’t to say that they don’t express their fear, but as a result, the danger never seemed real from the actors. So when the big rescue is happening, you know that nothing bad is going to happen to them. While the real life Bernie and Ray may in fact be reserved, this is an area where Hollywood would have been wise to take some liberties in order to create a better and more memorable story. At least one that audiences will connect with and root for.
Ultimately, The Finest Hours isn’t a bad film, it is just an average film. It is acted well from all parties and it is nice to see Pine in a role that is opposite of what we have seen from him so far. However the quiet reserve of the main characters diminish the danger of the storm and thus the film feels very paint by numbers.
3 ½ stars out of 5