THE FINEST HOURS
***1/2 (out of 5)
January 29, 2016
Chris Pine as BERNIE WEBBER
Holliday Grainger as MIRIAM
Casey Affleck as RAY SYBERT
Ben Foster as RICHARD LIVESEY
Kyle Gallner as ANDY FITZGERALD
Eric Bana as DANIEL CLUFF
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While most people think of Disney as a studio that has a lock on animation and family movies (and now big-budget sci-fi action movies from its Marvel and Lucasfilm arms), the brand extends far beyond that. In addition to inspirational sports movies, Disney makes it regular business to release inspirational true stories of heroism and humanity. With the more well known films having cleaned up at the box office last year (including huge bows for “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Inside Out” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), now is the time for the Mouse House to slow down and release something from their lesser-known brands.
“The Finest Hours” tells the real-life story of a group of Coast Guardsmen and a Naval sailor who brave a dangerous storm off the coast of Massachusetts to rescue the surviving crew of a ship that has been broken in half by the sea. Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, the man who leads them into the sea, and the story is balanced with his fiancée Miriam (Holliday Grainger) back on the shore praying he returns home safely.
To be sure, the main focus of the movie is the daring rescue, which takes its time in a good way. There’s a lot of set-up with how and why the ship initially falls apart. Then, there’s another large chunk of the movie that shows what the sailors were trying to do to steer the ship towards the shore. This is important to the story because it reveals how dangerous the sea is and what they had to go through in order to get control of their vessel.
Late in 2015, Warner Bros. released another sea adventure with “In the Heart of the Sea,” and while that film covered a different story (the inspiration for “Moby Dick”), took place in different waters (warm, tropical doldrums) and happened in an entirely different timeframe (at the height of the whaling industry in 1820 compared to this film’s 1952 setting), it seems to cover similar ground.
However, where “In the Heart of the Sea” had significant slow spots of being shipwrecked as well as unhinged character moments with the starving crew, “The Finest Hours” fits together much better. There is a strong sense of tension throughout the movie as it plays out over the course of one night. When we are on the ocean, the movie doesn’t really slow down. The characters and actors have much better chemistry, and the story moves with a good pace.
And sure, both films had a huge amount of sea-faring animation, but “The Finest Hours” feels more realistic and doesn’t come across as much as “In the Heart of the Sea” did existing as pixels on a screen.
Where the film really does lose steam is in the relationship between Bernie and Miriam. That’s what kicks off the movie – their first face-to-face meeting on a date – and that is the driving force that tries to ground the movie and give the audience a chance to breathe amid the high-seas adventure. Unfortunately, this is such a painfully obvious distraction, and there’s very little story that actually takes place on the land.
For all that Hollywood and the media has been bellyaching and hand-wringing about the disproportionate inclusion of female characters in the movies even today, forcing a storyline with a side character just feels awkward. The reality of history is that it was a group of men that went to save another group of men on that night in 1952. Shoehorning in a desperate fiancée had good meaning but took away from the film’s driving force. I’m sorry if that’s not politically correct, but that’s what you get when you chronicle a true story from the 50s.
Still, even with some slow land-lubber moments, “The Finest Hours” is an effective and exciting movie filled with some strong performances (though less on the shoulders of Chris Pine and more on the shoulders of Casey Affleck as the engineer on the doomed ship). In the end, it’s nice to see a film that champions the Coast Guard, which to too many civilians is the forgotten branch of the U.S. armed forces. And, “The Finest Hours” is a better film than Disney’s previous Coast Guard honoree “The Guardian” from ten years ago.