Walt Disney’s The Finest Hours is based on an incredible true story of a U.S. Coast Guard rescue mission that took place back in 1952. And I’ll give it to director Craig Gillespie (Fright Night) that the era is represented well in this two-hour dramatic film. However, the harrowing rescue of sailors trapped on a sinking oil tanker feels trapped beneath its CG effects. 60 foot waves rise and fall, but the characters remain are as flat as a pond on a calm afternoon.
Chris Pine stars as Bernie Webber, the captain of the Coast Guard rescue boat who is sent out in stormy waters by his boss, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), to rescue the crew of the tanker. Casey Affleck plays engineer Ray Sybert, the one guy on board the tanker who, despite the fact no one ever listens to him, comes up with the only solution as to how to stay alive until someone can get to the fast-sinking ship. Ben Foster, John Magaro, and Kyle Gallner have co-starring roles as the only men who will accompany Ray on the dangerous mission. Holliday Grainger plays Ray’s fiancée, Miriam, whose job it is to worry, rage, and generally stress out over the fact Ray is racing across the ocean on what everyone back at home assumes will be a failed rescue mission.
There’s an incredible story to be told based on the events of 1952 as laid out in the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias, but The Finest Hours isn’t up to the task of telling it. The Ray and Miriam love story bogs the film down, and the chemistry between Grainger and Pine is non-existent. Anytime the story switches from covering the actual rescue to spending time back on land with Miriam, The Finest Hours sputters and sinks. Miriam is not a fascinating character and instead feels like a caricature of every girl-left-behind character from classic films. It doesn’t help that Miriam’s actions are illogical and ridiculous, and that for some reason she’s pictured in freezing conditions dressed in lightweight clothes without a shiver or a goosebump in sight. Reality be damned, I guess.
The Finest Hours also features very few characters who can reason through a problem to get to a workable solution. It’s frustrating that scenes unfold in which the audience is led to a logical conclusion of a problem only to find that apparently the character we’re following on screen did not come to the same conclusion. It’s difficult to explain, but bear with me on this. There’s a scene in which the lights go out all over the town due to the storm. That leaves our heroes out at sea without lights to guide them to shore. So, Miriam stands at a window wondering how her man will return home and suddenly she sees a car’s headlights. You can almost witness the lightbulb going off in her head as she connects the dots: headlights are bright, therefore turn them on and face them out to sea. But, no, next we’re treated to a long, long string of cars driving to the dock in order to attempt to spot Ray’s small boat. The cars park and turn their headlights off. That’s right, off! Miriam and the townspeople stand around looking out to sea when suddenly she gets the idea to turn the lights on. Didn’t that come to her when she was watching out the window? It’s multiple scenes such as this that make The Finest Hours so exasperating to sit through.
Pine, Bana, and Affleck have done fine work before but The Finest Hours is not their finest hours. The effects are terrific, but the story is lost somewhere at sea.
Release Date: January 29, 2016
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of peril
Running Time: 117 minutes