With overtones of the George Clooney action adventure drama The Perfect Storm, The Finest Hours is a slow moving story of courage and endeavour based upon fact. It starts out as a 1950s romance between a shy, respectful member of the US Coast Guard and the “say it as it is” love of his life, but becomes an adventure on the high seas.
On February 18th, 1952, a massive nor’easter strikes New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern Seaboard and wreaking havoc on anything caught in its destructive path, including two 500-foot oil tankers. The SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer, bound for Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, respectively, are both literally ripped in half by the storm. The senior officer aboard the stern of the Pendleton, chief engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), soon realises it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and keep the ship afloat as long as possible. Not a popular figure, Sybert – who rarely, if ever, spends time above deck – faces a continual tongue lashing from another member of the crew, a hothead who always thinks he know better.
The Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts is busy helping local fishermen protect their boats from the storm when they receive word that the Fort Mercer is in trouble. The hardheaded warrant officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) – recently appointed as station chief – immediately dispatches his best men to aid in the larger rescue effort already underway. When Cluff learns that a second ship, the Pendleton, is also damaged and is now adrift in nearby waters, he orders shy coxswain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to quickly assemble a crew and take out a lifeboat to look for survivors. It is a treacherous endeavor that may well end up in their deaths, but Cluff issues the orders regardless. The quartet boards the 36-foot motorised, wooden boat and set off on the perilous mission.
Before they even clear Chatham Harbour, the vessel’s windshield and compass are destroyed. Yet the men persevere and despite hurricane-force winds, 60-foot waves, frigid temperatures and zero visibility, plough on regardless with an unknown outcome. Webber’s confidence took a real hit when a similar rescue mission just a year earlier failed. He is haunted by that.
Also starring Holliday Grainger as Webber’s headstrong, independent girlfriend Miriam, The Finest Hours is directed by Craig Gillespie, based upon the acclaimed book of the same name by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias.
While the novel tells the story of both tankers that split that fateful night, the screenplay focuses primarily on the Pendleton rescue and its two stories. So you have the men on the tanker trying to survive on the outside chance that someone might come to find them and the four who set out to rescue them. The two key male figures that feature are Webber and Sybert, both painted as vulnerable and both of whom step up when under pressure. Talking about stepping up, Miriam knows which way is up from the outset and is not afraid to speak her mind, whether it be putting the hard word on Sybert or standing up to his superior.
The whole picture feels too affected, that is overacted and overdramatised. I couldn’t get away from the feeling that for all the drama of the circumstances very little actually happened in the movie and yet the filmmakers managed to string it out unnecessarily for near on two hours. Why? Surely, a faster pacing would have benefited the story and one’s enjoyment of it. Instead, it was turned into a nostalgic period piece.
Pine and Affleck are collectively too wimpish, a couple of wet fish. For all of that, I found Affleck’s characterisation more convincing, if hardly charismatic. While some of the action scenes looked good, others lacked reality to me, as if they had been staged in a bathtub. The Finest Hours these are not. Rated PG, it scores a 5.5 to 6 out of 10.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Casey Affleck, Chris Pine, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner
Release Date: 3 March 2016
Rating: PG – Mild themes
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television