MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Finest Hours’ Leaks But Stays Afloat

the finest hours

Film: The Finest Hours
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck

Heroic feats on the sea seem to be a bit of a trend nowadays at the theaters. With Ron Howard’s In The Heart of the Sea, we learned that even the most harrowing stories can get slighted by the search for a worthy story to tell. With The Finest Hours, we get a bit of return to form with such a seafaring tale by telling a story verbatim. Verbatim is fine, just not when the whole narrative has a hard time juggling nihilism and good, old-fashioned, gooey optimism.

It’s a bit unusual to see Disney release a movie so steeped in crushing the audience with messages like “We live or we all die.” Well, it was unusual until dashingly handsome Chris Pine gets the task of playing the runt of a Coast Guard crew, having to prove himself to his shipmates that he’s right for the suicide mission. There’s a goofy undercurrent that cuts between the snide remarks between the whole cast, almost completely sinking any dramatic heft. As it stands, the whole thing may be a bit wobbly but it delivers on the promise of telling an untold story of stone-faced sailors overcoming insurmountable odds.

A giant blizzard hit Cape Cod in February of 1952. The Finest Hours tells the story of a four-man crew who braved the storm in a small vessel to save a tanker crew stranded off the coast. Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) led the expedition with nothing but his wits after the boat lost its compass and hope waned. On the other spectrum, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is doing everything in his power on the tanker to make time for the rescue boat to come get them. A rescue boat they have no idea is coming, as they lost their radio.

There’s this really weird, old-school sentimentality coming out of Affleck’s performance here. He’s that grinning-in-the-face-of-danger antithesis to the narrative’s oft-grim core. In one sequence, he peels a hard-boiled egg before laughing and muttering that the ship is sinking. Being a mechanic, he ends up MacGyver-ing a few things to keep the ship afloat. If anything, this is the welcome respite to Chris Pine and Co.’s battle with nature. A bit like Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea, The Finest Hours goes in a couple of directions before arriving at a safe ending. They both just don’t know exactly which direction to stick to.

That isn’t to say that Pine’s oddball sailor doesn’t mine some thrills in the middle of everything. The constant obstacles put in Webber and his crew’s way make for some decent “will they?” or “won’t they” cinema. If you don’t know the story behind the actual rescue the movie is based on, I’d recommend going in at least a little blind. Webber’s relationship with his pushy girlfriend, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), gets put at the forefront of the emotional core, in classic Disney style. The multiple scenes where they just stare at each other lovingly almost seem like they exist in a totally different movie, but they supply some okay context for Miriam’s aggressive worry for Bernie.

Director Craig Gillespie, on the other hand, tries to put the viewer right in the middle of the fight with Webber and his crew. Instead though, the fight for survival is pushed in front of your eyes for show, almost unrelenting in how it doesn’t want the characters to speak for themselves. There’s no talk amongst the tanker crew about their lives outside the ship. The movie saves itself of the “this is what I’m going to do when I get home” pitfall. But in a movie that is constantly having weird comic energy injected into the plot, lived-in moments like that feel the most welcome. Otherwise, these characters struggling to survive exist as tropes, of which they most certainly are.

Luckily for The Finest Hours, it never aggressively tries to push the viewer away from what the story is about. Once again, this is a story about real-life people achieving the impossible and saving human lives in the process. An absolutely valiant thing, for sure. Sometimes though, the recreation gets fumbled and needs a lifeline.


Sam Cohen
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