If there is one movie studio still keeping “Capraesque” filmmaking alive, it’s Disney. This is most definitely the case with “The Finest Hours”, a true story about the 1952 Coast Guard rescue of an oil tanker split in two off the coast of Cape Cod.
And this one has it all. Heroism? Check. An over the top, bombastic Carter Burwell score? Check. Love story? Check. “The Finest Hours” hits all the required Disney high water marks (no pun intended), but falls prey to the obvious genre tropes that come with “disaster at sea” tales.
The screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson does feature a linear character study regarding the two leads, played by Chris Pine and Casey Affleck. They are both outcasts in their respective jobs, mostly due to their quiet, reserved nature in a world with brash, rigid seamen.
“The Finest Hours” begins with Coast Guard First Mate Bernie Webber (Pine) meeting Miriam (Holliday Grainger) on a blind date. It’s overly cute and so entirely precious that it doesn’t take a cynic to roll their eyes and almost hope for tragedy to strike soon. Their courtship moves forward and eventually, the two decide to get married.
Their engagement is approximately nine hours old when a nor’easter hits and Bernie is sent out to rescue the Pendleton, which is deemed nothing more than a suicide mission. Three volunteers (Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, and a criminally underused Ben Foster) hop on a tiny rescue boat and attempt to pass the berm, which is essentially talked about as if it were the boogeyman.
Meanwhile, Ray Sybert (Affleck) attempts to buy time for the 34 survivors aboard the Pendleton. While the moments aboard this tanker are the highlights of the movie, Sybert has to deal with every single stereotypical character in movie history, such as a super positive, happy go lucky cook, the “all hope is lost” Negative Nancy, the scared kid, the grizzled veteran, etc.
“The Finest Hours” does have some stellar moments, most notably a sequence involving how navigation coordinates get to Sybert’s engine room location. The camera seamlessly moves from topside, down each deck, and finally to Sybert, all done with fantastic editing. It’s the type of high concept shot, ambitiously created by director Craig Gillespie and editor Tatiana Rieger, that almost deserves to be in a much better movie.
There’s just no subtlety in “The Finest Hours.” When Miriam storms into the Coast Guard office to confront Bernie’s Chief Officer, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana in yet another role wasting his talents), it’s understood that 1952 women were not expected to be so demanding. It’s great to watch the character stand up for herself, but when a male character flat out says “the other wives don’t act like this”, it is essentially telling an audience why what she’s doing is bold and brave and, unless you’re as thick as a brick, it’s completely unnecessary.
That is the type of dialogue that sinks “The Finest Hours.” It also hurts that Chris Pine’s northeastern accent leaves much to be desired. It’s another addition to actors that have failed at replicating the “Bahstahn” speech and if Pine just spoke in his natural accent, nobody would blink an eye.
Also, Pine is a bit miscast as a quiet and humble character. He seems to mumble and whisper most of his lines as if that’s a way to show his lack of confidence. While he seems like the type of actor that can and should carry a movie, Pine hasn’t pulled that off just yet (barring any movie when his character is named James T. Kirk).
On the other hand, Casey Affleck continues to absolutely nail every role he undertakes. He makes silence seem powerful instead of sheepish. When confronted by a shipmate who doubts him, Affleck looks down and pauses, then replies with very little words, but those words are delivered with such commitment that his confidence can’t be questioned. Affleck is one of the best character actors in movies today and he makes “The Finest Hours” much more watchable than it actually is.
The “nature attacks” moments of “The Finest Hours” are actually quite thrilling and, in some moments, terrifying. If seeing Bernie’s rescue boat climb a wave, crash down it, then briefly disappear completely underwater doesn’t freak you out, you are one of the bravest, most unflinching humans alive. The CGI is well done and conveys the sheer horror of what a sinking ship looks like.
“The Finest Hours” insists that you feel good at nearly every turn, leaving no moment to ever doubt that the rescue mission succeeds. In the end, that Disneyfication of this true story dooms it.