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I haven’t been on a boat in many, many years. The Finest Hours kind of makes me feel OK about that particular character trait of mine.
In 1952, an oil tanker called the Pendleton split in two during a blizzard off the coast of Cape Cod. All eight crewmembers who were in the stern at the time the boat broke in two perished. Thirty-three men initially survived in the bobbing bow section of the ship, mere hours away from certain death.
Upon hearing news of the situation, a four-man crew boarded the smallish CG-36500 boat and set out to sea, a violently choppy sea, in search of the Pendleton and its crew.
Director Craig Gillespie has crafted an exciting sea-faring movie. That is, an exciting sea-faring movie when it is actually out at sea. Some of the stuff that happens back on shore bogs the movie down in schmaltziness.
That’s OK. The action sequences, and the performances during those sequences, put The Finest Hours over the top as an entertainment worthy of your time.
Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, who captains the tiny ship tasked with saving over thirty men. Yes, this provides the opportunity for the guy who plays Captain Kirk to be called Captain a lot during the course of this film. It’s a slight distraction, but a good one nonetheless.
As Ray Sybert, one of the unlucky fellows aboard the Pendleton when it met its fate, Casey Affleck is rock solid as the man who takes charge in the face of great peril. When some of the crew thinks it’s a good idea to board the lifeboats in the middle of gale force winds, Sybert gives them a demonstration that renders that option moot. Affleck, one of the more underrated actors in the biz, offers the film’s best performance.
Unlike the dreadful In the Heart of the Sea that Ron Howard shat into the ocean last year, this one packs a major, exciting action punch with a lot of water. I haven’t felt this freaked out watching people ride into slamming waves since Wolfgang Petersen tortured Clooney and Wahlberg in The Perfect Storm.
Bernie rides into the belly of the beast with three crewmembers played by Ben Foster, John Magaro and Kyle Gallner. All four are terrific at looking scared shitless while being drenched and bounced about like a 5-year-old in a bounce house with a bunch of energetic and older fat people. When the action covers their voyage, or Affleck’s struggles aboard the sinking vessel, the movie is top notch.
Sadly, Gillespie feels the need to make this a love story, too. Holliday Grainger battles hard against the sap monster back on shore, and it’s a battle she loses despite an admirable effort. She plays Miriam, Bernie’s new girlfriend, and her face-offs with Bernie’s commander (Eric Bana with a distracting accent) at Coast Guard HQ are tiresome stuff. Bernie and Miriam’s courtship is actually kind of sweet in the early part of the movie, but their love story becomes nothing but an unwelcome distraction once waves start hitting Bernie’s boat.
The film looks and plays a lot like a movie that could’ve been shot in black and white. Some of the faces in this film (especially Foster’s) look like old timey actors, and there were times I was expecting one of the Bowery Boys or Humphrey Bogart to show up and lend a hand. There are times when the film has a palpable classic vibe.
Pine comes to life when his character is out at sea, but his stilted choices back on shore seem almost gimmicky. He’s very charismatic in most of his roles, and the sheepishness he portrays on dry land feels forced and overdone. He salvages his work during the action sequences, for sure, but the movie does feature some of his career worst work at times.
If you are looking for a good seafaring movie with a decent love story, your best bet is still Titanic. The Finest Hours is no masterpiece, but it gets the job done.