- on Friday, 29 January 2016 15:59
- by Frank Wilkins
Were they not based a true story, the events depicted in The Finest Hours might feel more like the excessive by-product of Hollywood’s hyperactive imagination than something that actually happened. After all, there’s so much heroism, bravery, and selfless duty going on in Craig Gillespie’s film, it’s hard to imagine such a time when men put the lives of others before that of themselves.
But, surprisingly, the events depicted actually took place off the Massachusetts coast in the winter of 1952 when a couple of mammoth oil tankers broke in two during a massive nor’easter and foundered in rough seas while awaiting rescue.
Having sent nearly every available man to the rescue of the first ship, the Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts is ill-equipped and unprepared when it discovers that the second, the SS Pendleton, is also in distress. The eager but relatively inexperienced coxswain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is immediately called in to assemble a crew and attempt a rescue in a perilously undersized wooden lifeboat.
Gillespie smartly unfurls his story from two particular viewpoints: that of the stricken ship with its resourceful crew struggling to survive; and from that of the coast guard station and the brave men called upon to rescue any survivors. Both threads are led by strong characters.
As if facing hurricane force winds, 50-foot swells, and frigid temperatures weren’t entertaining enough, Gillespie and screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Doug Merrifiled stray from their source material – Michael J. Tougias’s novel of the same name – and introduce a third story arc that involves Webber’s fiancée Miriam, played by British actress Holliday Grainger.
It’s this eye-rollingly silly love story that represents both the film’s biggest shortcoming and Gillespie’s most glaring weakness as his periodic visits to the home front hobble the entire experience significantly.
It’s not difficult to understand the need for a romantic element. Handled correctly, such a thread might provide a much-appreciated break from the white-knuckled action as all hell breaks loose offshore. But Pine and Grainger disastrously fail to click. Any chemistry is virtually nonexistent as is our rooting interest in their promising relationship. They stare at each other a lot, but the gaze is vacant. As handled by Gillespie et al, this anything-but-subtle romance thread feels tacked on and poorly fleshed out. As a result, the man versus nature conceit we’ve bought into is severely diminished. The action is big and bold and in your face, the melodrama shouldn’t be.
As the amiable captain of the CG36500 lifeboat, Chris Pine does an admirable job. His Webber displays a calm-under-pressure sympathy that plays nicely into the devotion and sense of duty displayed by men of his generation. Casey Affleck holds his own as the mid-level crew member thrust into the role of reluctant leader of what remains of the Pendleton’s crew. But nearly everyone else disappears, including Eric Bana as grumpy station chief and Ben Foster as Webber’s first mate who barely utters a word.
It’s a downright shame that such a heroic event has gone virtually unrecognized for more than 60 years by anyone other than the occasional visitor to the Coast Guard’s Connecticut museum and gift shop. Today’s generations could certainly stand a lesson from history. Though these humble men would most certainly dismiss any fame or notoriety for their actions, it’s time the world gets to know what they did and to understand the true definition of selflessness. Too bad they’ll have to wait for another filmmaker to come along and bring their story to the big screen with the care and attention they deserve. The Finest Hours is taking on water.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of peril
Runtime: 117 mins
Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy
Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster
Genre: Action | Romance
Tagline: 32 survivors, room for 12.
Memorable Movie Quote: "We've got maybe three hours. And then we sink.
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Site: http://movies.disney.com/the-finest-hours
Release Date: January 29, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: In February of 1952, one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast struck New England, damaging an oil tanker off the coast of Cape Cod and literally ripping it in half. On a small lifeboat faced with frigid temperatures and 70-foot high waves, four members of the Coast Guard set out to rescue the more than 30 stranded sailors trapped aboard the rapidly-sinking vessel.
No details available.