#REVIEW: “THE FINEST HOURS”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
During a horrific winter storm in 1952, oil tanker SS Pendleton is cut in half along the coast of Cape Cod by heavy winds and waves, killing the captain and a number of crew members. With the remaining crew clinging to hope on half a ship, the local branch of the Coast Guard send a few men in on a suicide mission to save them. And if that sounds at all far-fetched, it really should not – it is actually based on a true story.
There is not much to dislike about The Finest Hours – but there is not all that much to love about it either. Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Million Dollar Arm) has made a rare true story-based Film that tells the straight facts, but never makes any of the proceedings truly captivating. We are supposed to care about the crew on the Pendleton, desperate to survive their horrific circumstances. We are supposed to care about the Coast Guard members trying to save them, despite the odds. But the Film never offers us an opportunity to feel for any of them.
This is not to say everyone snoozes through the proceedings. Casey Affleck is quite effective as the Pendleton’s engineer Ray Sybert. He conveys the conflict and gravity of the situation quite well, tapping into that edge he showed us so long ago in Movies like Gone Baby Gone. He fares a lot better than Chris Pine, playing the lead of the Coast Guard team Bernie Webber. For some inexplicable reason, he comes off stripped of his charisma and gravitas, making for an unfortunately hollow performance. While it is refreshing to see Gillespie not make this real life hero into a genuine superhero, he never seems content how properly to characterize Webber, and Pine never quite finds his best stride as a result of this. While the supporting players are all uniformly good, I genuinely wanted to love stateside up-and-comer (although already acclaimed in the U.K.) Holliday Grainger, but she is held back both physically and metaphorically by the confines of the script.
Looking past the performances, the Film does succeed is in its scenes at sea. Gillespie employs a few fun camera tricks, and makes nearly every single scene unique and thrilling in their own right. The thrills keep amping up as the Film moves along, and the suspense grows alongside it. Seeing the shattered half of what remains of the Pendleton for the first time is marvelous filmmaking all on its own. Even if you know how the story ends, it does not take away how gripping these scenes are. It is a true shame that the 3D is so muddy in some instances, because it genuinely takes away from some dazzling special effects.
If The Finest Hours took place entirely at sea and chopped out any scenes on land, I think I would have enjoyed it infinitely more. As it is, it’s a spectacular-looking Film that leaves us underwhelmed. Even with the thrills and suspense, ultimately one of the Film’s greatest challenges is getting us to be invested in these characters. Thankfully, the visuals more than make up for these problems and only help add to this extraordinary true tale.
Walt Disney Motion Pictures Canada release THE FINEST HOURS on Friday, January 29, 2016.