MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Historical-Adventure-Disaster-Drama/ Stars: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, Eric Bana, Josh Stewart, Graham McTavish, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, Rachel Brosnahan, Michael Raymond-James/ Runtime: 117 minutes
When one digs deeper into the true story that has inspired director Craig Gillespie and studio Disney’s new film The Finest Hours one will soon see that is just absolutely amazing and to be honest kind of incredible that it’s never been adapted into a motion picture before. This is because upon seeing it one will realize that The Finest Hours is an absolutely fantastic tale of love, danger, courage and ingenuity, and even has a bit of the “miraculous” sprinkled on top. Indeed while the movie itself runs into a few issues in its telling of this phenomenal story, it’s still at the end of the day a pretty impressive one to watch unfold.
The plot is as follows: Based on the book of the same name by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias, The Finest Hours is set in the early ‘50s and centers on the story of a Mr. Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a United States Coast Guardsman who has spent his whole life doing everything by the book, including not even willing to call himself engaged to be married to the love of his life, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), until he gets permission from his commanding officer (a very interesting with a southern accent Eric Bana). Yet while Bernie has a touch of a tragic past, having once failed to save many lives during a rescue mission, he nevertheless remains resilient and brave in the face of overwhelming odds….a factor which soon becomes incredibly important when a terrifying and potentially catastrophic disaster strikes. A disaster which takes the form of, during epic storm conditions, and about ten miles off the coast, the waves prove to be so rough that a T2 tanker gets completely and totally split in half with the bow gone within a matter of minutes and the stern left floating but slowly sinking. Yet tragically, an almost identical disaster twenty miles off the coast of Nantucket soon leaves almost every available rescue ship otherwise occupied, a fact which forces first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) to use every trick he knows to keep what remains of the ship plus the 33 surviving members of the crew alive and above water. Indeed from all perspectives, this seems like a circumstance from which it’s impossible to survive, but unsurprisingly that doesn’t stop Bernie from committing to his duties by putting together a skeleton crew (Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro) in what mostly everyone else is calling a suicide mission and taking to the sea in a small vessel in an attempt to save those 33 lives no matter what the cost….
Now by employing a split narrative that has audiences following the events taking place on the slowly-sinking ship as closely as the rescue mission racing against time to get there we as an audience get to witness a series of constantly new obstacles for the characters to work their way around, as well as new threats managing to present themselves. This then allows us as audience members not only to see that the sense of danger is seemingly constant, but to raise the stakes all the higher as well. Indeed whether it’s Sybert’s mission to steer towards a shoal and stop the T2 from sinking by practically running her aground, or the bar of seemingly endless smashing waves keeping Webber and his crew separated from the half of the destroyed ship that is still afloat the movie does a fantastic job of constantly making you question whether or not our heroes will survive and truly keeps you invested in their fate. Yet while sadly it doesn’t all work, as time spent with Miriam on shore as the worried significant other unfortunately doesn’t really add much of anything to the narrative, because with conditions like the ones present you really to an extent don’t need extra incentive to hope Bernie lives, but above all the positive qualities of this story truly do outweigh the negatives.
Now in its ensemble, The Finest Hours does get a bit stereotypical with its supporting characters as onboard the sinking ship we are treated to such cliché crew members as “big guy who likes to sing, “mumbly guy only one person understands”, and “mutinous crew member who winds up respecting group leader by the end” and on board the little boat that could we have “guy who doubts the captain’s abilities but who comes to respect him” and “guy who’s never been on a boat before”. Yet what really keeps the film grounded is the truly solid co-lead performances from Chris Pine and Casey Affleck as from an outward personality perspective, the former is a complete and total antithesis of Pine’s Captain Kirk persona as he could get. Yet although Webber is much more introverted and soft-spoken he is nevertheless just as engaging as the Enterprise captain because of how charismatic and steadfast he is going into what looks like a suicide mission. Indeed Pine manages to sell all of this man and his qualities incredibly well. On the other side of the coin however Sybert as a character actually isn’t meant to be all that personable. This may be due in no small part to the fact that he is actively disliked by most of his crew. Despite that however, the younger Affleck brother actually manages to do a terrific job of making you have no choice but to respect the man even if your only reason for doing so is because his blunt attitude winds up being the perfect thing for a leader to have in such a crisis. Indeed while both men are put in the position of carrying the film both certainly do a fantastic job of pulling their weight and therefore deliver in aces.
Now this film really doesn’t offer much in the way of a big 3D experience. This is because to be perfectly honest with you the film really does not do anything with the third dimension other than make everything that you see on screen quite a bit darker. Yet it should be said that The Finest Hours when seen in regular 2D does have an aesthetic to match its impressive story. Indeed the film does an amazing job in its portrayal of tempestuous conditions on the water in tandem with creating the period setting of the 1950’s in which the film takes place all the way down to the cars being driven in the scenes that’re set on land. Yet after the 4-man team sets sail, director Craig Gillespie does a great job of taking every opportunity to launch a seemingly endless series of waves that feel like they could possibly take out not only our heroes on their small little boat that could but also the 33 men aboard the still for the time being afloat stern of the T2 tanker. Indeed the movie is entirely convincing in its blend of both practical and visual effects in production design and larger action sequences which is all the more impressive when you realize that is all very new terrain from a filmmaker who previously brought us the Ryan Gosling-starrer Lars and the Real Girl and the, also by Disney, baseball film Million Dollar Arm.
All in all while “Based on a True Story” movies these days truly are a dime a dozen nowadays The Finest Hours is one of those rare examples of this now well-worn genre where you will walk out of this film actually impressed and amazed that the events that you just witnessed went down as they did. Indeed while the film doesn’t all hang together with some buttons pressed too hard, and others too softly, The Finest Hours at the end of the day still succeeds as a compelling drama that tells us all a story that is truly worth telling. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Finest Hours a 3.5 out of 5.