For all the great action and peril pieces strewn throughout the new true story adaptation The Finest Hours it’s sad to find this new Chris Pine film getting pretty monotonous due to the ham-fisted drama that undercuts everything in between. I think the most disappointing aspect of this is that it dulled down this truly incredible real story of survival and rescue, rendering it pretty ineffectual and completely forgettable. With a decent cast like the one driving this film, it’s another cliché filled mishandling of source material, and it deserved better.
Coming from the writing team behind David O. Russell’s The Fighter, it should be known that lack of heart is definitely not the problem in The Finest Hours. It’s actually quite the opposite as this film has an abundance of heart and an equal overstuffing of sentimentalism, mostly coming in the form of Chris Pine’s character’s fiercely worried fiancee played by Holliday Grainger. A lot of that film stalling drama comes directly from her, which isn’t the actor’s fault but that of the story team who can’t seem to keep pressing the main story without shoehorning this subplot in.
The story follows Bernie Webber (Pine), a member of the Coast Guard in Chatham, Massachusetts. Opening with the focus being on the beginning of his whirlwind romance with his soon to be fiancee, Miriam, we see Bernie to be a sort of odd duck socially but he really connects with the new woman in his life. When she proposes to him, Bernie seeks the blessing of the Chief Warrant Officer at the Coast Guard station, something that I guess was a tradition for the Coast Guard that I was unaware of.
After this initial set up, we are shown Casey Affleck’s character Ray Sybert, a head engineer on the SS Pendleton, a tanker moving it’s way past Cape Cod in this middle of a vicious storm. Having already had some serious structural repairs in the past, the continual pounding of these large waves ends up tearing the ship in half and sinking the front of the boat. This leaves a crew of over thirty men stranded on the remaining section of the boat with no communication and only the blow horn to signal any rescuers.
Back on mainland, the Coast Guard is informed of the SS Fort Mercer, another tanker that split in half in the ocean and sends a crew out to help. When a local tells them that he spotted the aft section of the Pendleton in the distance, the Chief Warrant Officer Cluff (Eric Bana) forces Bernie to gather a crew of four men and head out to the fast sinking boat to save whoever he can. Essentially a suicide mission, everyone involved knows the very large risk that these men may never come back.
Director Craig Gillespie is a filmmaker I’ve enjoyed very much in the past, from small dramatic features like the Ryan Gosling film Lars and the Real Girl to the remake of Fright Night that I thought exceeded the original. In this he really works some of the big set pieces quite well. The reveal of the ship breaking apart is really spectacular, the computer effects looking pretty solid. If it was a straightforward focus on the disaster and rescue, this film would have played out very satisfyingly but, being a Disney film, the added element of a love storyline is to formulaic for them to pass up.
I think my biggest problem with the Pine and Grainger love story is how quickly it’s forced upon us. At the very start of the film, it opens on Chris Pine nervous in a car outside of a diner with his friend and co-worker Gus, as he psyches himself up to meet a woman we assume he’s only had phone correspondence with up until this point. Upon meeting her the film then dips into this flighty and overwrought obviousness of them falling in love at first sight. To me it was too much and rubbed me the wrong way.
Am I a curmudgeon about the whole angle of love stories in movies? No, not at all. My problem is that we know absolutely nothing about either character, as zero character reveals or developments have happened yet The Finest Hours wants us to like and care for these two immediately. It feels like a forceful and premature manipulation that kind of set the tone of this whole movie for me, a complete turn off.
I also have a gripe with the acting of this film and I have to say that it rests solely on the shoulders of the writers. Casey Affleck gives a heartfelt and soft spoken performance that works well but everyone else is very limp including our lead Chris Pine, who seems to be trying to channel a much better Michael Shannon performance. It’s probably for the best that he didn’t share a huge amount of scenes with Holliday Grainger because, as much as she fit the time period in her look in the film, she seemed to have a one note quality about how she played her role.
With all the pacing shifts and bad exposition parts, The Finest Hour limps along for close to two hours and only slightly rises above being a mediocre film. I would definitely score it above Ron Howard’s Moby Dick related outing last year but it’s another example of a true story getting the wrong kind of focus. With a story as big as this one you’d think it would be something to leave a lasting impression but it’s completely weightless and I found myself wanting it wrapped up quickly. I give The Finest Hours a two out of five.