6 out of 10
Chris Pine as Bernie Webber
Directed by Craig Gillespie
The Finest Hours Review:
“The Finest Hours” has some amazing visual effects depicting the daring sea rescue, but an overall slow pace and flat performances by Chris Pine and Casey Affleck drag the movie down.
This film is based on the true story and the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias.
In February of 1952, a strong storm hit the coast of New England. In the middle of the storm, the oil tanker SS Pendleton found itself in trouble. Then, to make matters worse, the ship literally broke in half. Ray Sybert and thirty two other men found themselves in the back half of the ship being pummeled by the storm. Despite being in half a ship, they still managed to have power and a working engine, but no radio. With only a horn to call for help, they began trying to find a way to buy themselves time until rescue.
Fortunately, their calls for help were heard on shore. And only one U.S. Coast Guard station was anywhere near the ship to attempt a rescue. However, any rescue would have to face mountainous waves, frigid temperatures, a treacherous exit from the local bay, and nighttime conditions. They also didn’t know the location of the ship or if it was still afloat. Into these conditions went Boatswains Mate First Class Bernard Webber and three other men on what many deemed a suicide mission.
The Finest Hours is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril.
One thing that sets The Finest Hours apart from other maritime disaster movies is the nature of the disaster. When a crewmember walks out on the deck at night only to find half the ship gone, it’s a terrifying and memorable sight. What ensues is a really interesting engineering challenge – how do you keep half a ship afloat in one of the worst storms in history? And even more challenging is can you possibly steer and propel half of a ship? While this film is being praised as one of the Coast Guard’s most amazing rescues, I’d say it’s equally amazing what the crew of the SS Pendleton was able to do if it’s even partially accurate. This impressive feat is realized with awe-inspiring special effects and some pretty impressive practical effects on the large sets of the broken stern. If you’re into action movies or disaster movies, this will appeal to you.
While the efforts of the SS Pendleton crew are impressive, the heroism of Webber and his crew is equally noteworthy. As a bunch of land lovers, it’s easy to take for granted something as seemingly simple as leaving a port and getting over a shoal in a storm. However, The Finest Hours rather effectively builds up the dread of having to leave the port. And when they do, you quickly see why every sailor and fisherman in the film looked at it as a suicidal task. It’s a tense scene and one of the most memorable in the film, particularly because after they face it, their trials are only beginning.
What Didn’t Work:
Despite the amazing rescue scenes at sea, this is a really slow movie. It starts out going to great pains depicting the romance between Webber and his girlfriend Miriam. It’s quite apparent that director Craig Gillespie is building the emotional stakes for later in the film, but it all feels a bit flat. Webber and Miriam are entirely normal and boring like any real-world couple. Unfortunately, that’s not what you’re looking for on the big screen. It’s not helped by the fact that Chris Pine is quite dull as Bernie Webber. Now, maybe that’s how Webber is in real life – soft spoken and seemingly timid – but it makes Pine seem like he’s sleepwalking through the scenes on land. Casey Affleck is equally low key as Ray Sybert. Even in the tensest scenes in the movie, he seems like his heartbeat is barely racing. Again, maybe this is more reflective of the real-life person he’s playing, but it comes across as flat on the screen.
Another odd reaction to this film is, “Huh, is that it?” When you look back at the plot, it’s basically the Pendleton getting in trouble, Webber and his crew going out on a boat to pick them up, then they are brought back. The end. This is advertised as the U.S. Coast Guard’s “finest hours,” but it didn’t feel like it. I think we’re so desensitized by Hollywood spectacle that when we see a real-life story played out on screen, it seems dull compared to everything else. These guys undeniably faced near-certain death, treacherous seas, hypothermia, and more, but the reaction is, “It wasn’t big enough.” It’s shameful to me, but that’s how I felt walking out of the theater. And I usually complain that a lot of these true-story movies don’t resort to realism enough. The Finest Hours did (apparently), and it didn’t feel like enough.
The Bottom Line:
The Finest Hours has some great elements to it, but overall it’s a mildly interesting film. There are a lot more impressive sea disaster movies out there. This would be worth watching on TV or renting later, but I wouldn’t recommend spending extra money to see it in 3D on the big screen unless you had already seen everything else in the theater.