Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, Graham McTavish
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Run Time: 109 minutes
Genre: Historical Action/Drama
3 out of 5 Frames
By: Cassandra Nicholson
What precisely does one do when the ocean tears your ship asunder? For most it means sudden or eventual death. But for a lucky few, it might just lead to a harrowing, death-defying adventure that will live on in the annals of naval history.
The “remarkably true” story follows Coast Guard Boastwains Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a man of the sea, and Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), a man who knows his ship. Both are quietly driven, honorable men who don’t have a ton of friends or allies at their disposal.
Their journey is somewhat unique, as far as action heroes go, as they are essentially beta males who must rise to the occasion in the face of blatant machismo demonstrated by their alpha naysayers. Bernie and Ray are experts in their respective fields, but they’re not necessarily the first men any of their peers would approach in a situation.
Bernie is still recovering from a failed mission a year ago, where the winter storms were so treacherous that his team was unable to go far enough out to sea to even attempt a rescue of doomed small-town fishermen. That tragedy has weighed on Bernie ever since, and he’s been unable to shake the guilt.
Ray is a loner, a man who knows everything about the SS Pendleton, a large oil tanker with a colorful past. Not much is explained about Ray’s past, about whether he has a family back home, a girlfriend or wife – all the crew knows is that he’s always down with the engines and he might just love the Pendleton more than he loves people. Though he has a couple allies in fellow shipman Frank Fauteux (Graham McTavish) and Tchuda Southerland, a man whose strange dialect no one else can understand, Ray pretty much keeps to himself.
When tragedy strikes, it’s up to Bernie and Ray to use their skills and wit to keep everyone on the sinking ship alive. In Ray’s case, it’s maintaining what’s left of the halved ship they’re in, and for Bernie, it means risking his life and the lives of others to possibly, maybe, hopefully, find the Pendleton somewhere in the dark and stormy seas.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm”), the film is definitely action-packed, with cinematography that relies on a lot of rack focusing that one might find in a more cerebral dramatic film. The characters are starkly drawn, with nuances saved mostly for protagonists Bernie and Ray, as the resident antagonists played by Eric Bana, Ben Foster Michael Raymond-James and Matthew Maher are colored in with a more villainous – or at least jackass – style. This appears to be primarily due to the writing versus the portrayal.
At times the dialogue is rather stilted, as if both the writers and the actors struggled to legitimately portray young men in the 1950s. As most “lost at sea” films tend to lean, “The Finest Hours” is a bit hokey, despite clearly earnest efforts to make the story ring true. It’s this tenor and a few sparse swear words that definitely makes it an all-ages film.
“The Finest Hours” makes its strongest effort in portraying the amazing work that the U.S. Coast Guard and naval forces around the world do to save those who are stranded at sea. Not only do these characters fight harsh winds and intense waves, they’re doing it all in the dead of a Massachusetts winter.
Anyone who walks away from this film thinking they can do what these men did – and what real men and women do every day – needs to put a masthead where their mouth is.
Perhaps the weakest element of the film is the lovesick Miriam, whom Bernie meets a few months before the fateful storm that takes him out to rescue the SS Pendleton. When they meet in person for the first time, Miriam and Bernie hit it off, and they become a steady item. Over the course of the film, Miriam awkwardly asserts herself as she desperately keeps track of Bernie’s progress at sea, sometimes even going so far as to pick a fight with his commanding officer.
It’s the 1950s, sure, and there’s no doubt the strong-willed Miriam is truly in love with Bernie, and worried for his safety. But it doesn’t play very well on-screen, and it makes the romance between Miriam and Bernie appear embarrassingly one-sided. As is the case with Ray’s love for his ship, it appears Bernie’s one true love may be the open sea.
For those who love decent historical dramas, this is a solid action flick with characters you can root for alongside characters that will make you roll your eyes. With the exception of a few painfully obvious studio shots, the film does a good job of bringing the audience to the ocean along with the main characters.
This reviewer is not a fan of 3-D, and regrettably saw that version of this film. Due to the cinematography and a few other visual style choices, 3-D distracted from the film and key performances. Unless you’re a diehard 3-D lover, you can probably watch this in 2-D and have the same emotional experience throughout the story.
If you don’t find yourself to be a fan of oceanic films, action flicks or historical dramas, you can probably skip this. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, but you do enjoy Chris Pine, Casey Affleck or anyone else from this cast, you can safely wait for Netflix, Redbox or OnDemand.
“The Finest Hours” opens everywhere Jan. 29.