Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, Eric Bana
Runtime: 1 hr 58 mins
Rating: PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: Walt Disney Motion Pictures Singapore
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/thefinesthoursmovie
Opening Day: 18 February 2016
Synopsis: A heroic action-thriller, “The Finest Hours” is the remarkable true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history.
In the winter of 1952, a fierce New England nor’easter tore not one, but two, oil tankers off the coast of Cape Cod in halves. One of them was not quite so lucky – not only did it not manage to get a distress signal out, most available Coast Guard resources at that time were already directed to saving the crew members of the other ship, leaving few to respond to its call for help. ‘The Finest Hours’ is the story of a four-man Coast Guard team that did, braving the storm in a motorised 36-foot lifeboat to rescue the 33 remaining men on board the SS Pendleton. It is also a Disney movie, and on that account alone, you can bet that it will be as earnest an account of their heroic feat as it gets.
True enough, this is an old-fashioned rescue yarn that has no qualms wearing the heroism of its real-lie characters on its sleeve – and for the record, they are the young sailor Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), veteran seamen Richard Livesey (Ben Foster) and Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), as well as rookie Ervin Maske (John Magaro). As much as the rest of the men had a part to play in the rescue mission, it is Bernie whom the movie chooses to place its focus on, setting up a romance between the shy straight-jawed Coast Guard and the spunky bright-faced telephone operator Miriam (Holliday Grainger) that leads to the latter asking the former for his hand in marriage just before the fateful day at sea.
Understandably, the aim of their sweetly nostalgic first-act romance is to raise the emotional stakes once Bernie goes out to sea. Alas neither their initial meet-cute encounter at a blind date nor their subsequent atypical marriage proposal resonates as it should, in part due to the lack of chemistry between Pine and Granger as well as the monotonous staging by their director Craig Gillespie. There is not so much as a heartbeat to be found in these painfully slow scenes that drag on for way too long, which are basically pointless considering how they serve no other purpose than as prelude to the disaster sequences.
To Gillespie’s credit, the subsequent two acts do pick up the pace considerably. There is tension between the newly posted station chief (Eric Bana) and his local crew, the latter believing that the former’s order to send Bernie out in the storm is as good as a suicide mission. There is also tension between the survivors of the SS Pendleton, deliberating whether to stay put or take their chances on the lifeboats. But most of all, there is jaw-dropping spectacle – first in how Bernie and his crew navigate a treacherous sandbar just to get out into the open ocean, then how the Pendleton’s first assistant Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) fashions a rudimentary tiller to steer the ship (or what’s left of it) and run it aground against a reef, and lastly the very rescue itself.
No expense has been spared in re-creating the harsh conditions that the men faced that day or the details of the SS Pendleton’s amputated stern, and the realism is simply breathtaking. From the towering waves of the sandbar threatening to submerge the tiny rescue boat to the hurricane-force waters and ferocious waters of the open sea buffeting the SS Pendleton, one feels the sheer force of nature keenly and profoundly. Yes, there is never any doubt the odds that were against both Bernie and his crew as well as the men he had set out to save, and by extension the bravery of the former and the wits of the latter – in addition to just pure luck – that allowed both of them to survive the ordeal.
There is a third centre of action that is also the least engaging of the three – not content to wait for news at home, Miriam drives herself to the Coast Guard office and chides Bernie’s commanding officer for sending him out to die, just before she crashes her car into a snowbank. Though her inclusion is meant to honour the family members of the Coast Guard officers who live each day knowing that their loved ones’ every mission might just be his or her last, these scenes are an unnecessary distraction from the action out at sea, causing the film to lose its rhythm every time it looks like it is about to hit its stride.
Especially given that you already know how it ends, ‘The Finest Hours’ should really be about the journey, one of valour, duty before self and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Yet this feel-good disaster movie doesn’t quite move you as you expect it to, chiefly because its emotions feel manufactured than genuine. As a thrill ride, it has its moments, but these exhilarating parts are unfortunately bogged down every now and then with dull character drama that not even a committed cast can make work. Like we said at the start, this is as old-school a tale of square-jawed heroism as it gets, but ironically it is also as much as this fitfully engaging story is worth.
(An old-fashioned rescue yarn that treats its real-life subject with utmost sincerity, 'The Finest Hours' stays afloat only on account of its thrilling action scenes)
Review by Gabriel Chong