‘The Finest Hours’: Where This Movie Falls Short

Source: Walt Disney Pictures
Source: Walt Disney Pictures

Craig Gillespie’s The Finest Hours is a well-intentioned film with a robust cast. The frames are quite colorful and the larger conflict can draw you in. But, here’s the catch: It is a missed opportunity. Chris Pine’s (Z for Zachariah) character Bernard “Bernie” Webber is sort of lifeless. He is gentle and kindhearted, which is a positive; but on the screen it just doesn’t translate well. Also, his fellow Coast Guardsman Richard “Richie” Livesey (Ben Foster, Lone Survivor) squanders his opportunities to have a shining moment. He is a flat character with little background and even less to say.

In the same breath one could say that The Finest Hours is just a “tide” away from being a solid, alluring film. Gillespie’s direction is not bad, it is just barebones. What viewers will find is that the seafaring scenes are nicely done nicely shot and engaging. The oil tanker that Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck, Interstellar) winds up captaining after the other half of his ship sinks to the depths, is captured neatly. Most of the time it is an eerie ghost ship with creaky pipes and flooded chambers. However, while the ship carries the remnants of the crew, it cannot carry the whole movie.

The characters simply miss too many chances to create a memorable scene. Their deliveries are bland, and the film’s dialogue is sub-par. The silver linings, or let’s say the flotation devices, of this film are Casey Affleck and Holliday Grainger (who plays Bernie’s soon-to-be wife, Miriam). Each character has at least two solid scenes. Nonetheless, it could still be argued that Miriam’s role in the film is a bit too jarring and perhaps heavy-handed. When she is shown skidding on a snowy road, it takes away from the thrill of the seafaring rescue. This is of no fault to Grainger, for Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, and Paul Tamasy’s screenplay is just too anemic. The physical demands that would be required of the men responsible for this rescue and the tanker’s crew members are downplayed in the attempt to stay PG-13. As a rated-R film, The Finest Hours would be much better.

Overall, if you wind up seeing this film, it may keep you watching with the dark, haunting waves that crash into the side of an already-battered tanker. But the characters will not impress, and Bernie Webber’s strange temperament might hinder your ability to appreciate the film at a deeper level. The aim that he is overwhelmingly compliant and mellow is a good one; but does not mesh with a vociferous captain that viewers think they might be seeing. Let the record show, however, that the relationship between Bernie and Miriam is a swell one.

Read ahead for a plot synopsis.

Source: Walt Disney Pictures
Source: Walt Disney Pictures

1952: Off the coast of Cape Cod.

The Finest Hours begins as Bernie forges a relationship with the quirky and attractive Miriam. Bernie quickly learns that she’s the one for him, but sometimes he cannot match her outspokenness. Eventually, it is made known that winter is upon them, which is something Miriam needs to consider, since he is a member of the Coast Guard, and those are the hardest months. Nevertheless, Miriam takes it upon herself to ask Bernie to marry her. While initially refusing her, he comes around and the two settle on a date.

Soon after, though, news comes across the radio that the oil tankers SS Fort Mercer and SS Pendleton were destroyed by the hammering waves. The bulk of the film revolves around Bernie’s captaining of CG 36500, sent to rescue members of the SS Pendleton.

Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana, Deliver Us from Evil) perhaps negligently sends Bernie off on the small rescue ship, asking him to cross the intimidating “bar” to get to the high seas. It is a feat Bernie has not been able to do in a hurricane-strength storm yet. He is sent out alongside Richard Livesey (Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) on the CG 36500 to lend a hand to Sybert and company.

This alternate Affleck plot revolves around his sort of rise to power after half of the tanker carrying the captain sinks. While his portion of the ship, the stern, still floats, it will not be seaborne for long because water is flooding the chambers. Sybert and his men (which includes Frank Fauteux, played by Graham McTavish, of Outlander) must make a rudimentary tiller to steer the ship to a shallower portion of the waters.

Bernie and his crew push toward the “ghost ship.” Can he guide the vessel all the way there? Can Sybert keep the stern afloat long enough to get the 30 plus men to safety?

Source: Walt Disney Pictures
Source: Walt Disney Pictures

The Finest Hours is an ambitious film that falls just short of the mark. While it does not necessarily sink to the ocean floor, it comes very close. The only energy keeping it afloat are the idiosyncrasies of Affleck’s character and the tenacity of Grainger’s character. It’s still a surprise that more of her screen time did not hit the cutting room floor, though.

Cheers to much of the cinematography, done by Javier Aguirresarobe, and most of the CGI. The Finest Hours may be a neat movie to catch as a Saturday matinee. Just do not expect an Academy Award-winning effort.

Follow Dan Gunderman on Twitter @dangun127

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