Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Craig Gillespie
Stars: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Garinger, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, Graham McTavish, John Ortiz, Eric Bana, Michael Raymond-James, Josh Stewart, Beau Knapp, Keiynan Lonsdale, Rachel Brosnahan, Abraham Benrubi.
This earnest but somehow old fashioned seeming drama is based on an inspiring true story about what is regarded as the Coast Guard’s most daring sea rescue. It occurred off the east coast of America in 1952 during one of the worst storms encountered when a turbulent storm struck the oil tanker the SS Pendleton and ripped the ship in half. Under the command of engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) the surviving crew members worked hard to keep the ship afloat until a rescue mission could be mounted.
Four members of the undermanned Cape Cod Coast Guard were dispatched in a small craft which was clearly unsuited to the task. Under the command of Bernie Webber (Chris Pine, from the Star Trek reboot, etc) the crew managed to brave huge waves, terrible conditions and teeming rain that reduced visibility to almost zero. And they managed to rescue 32 members of the Pendleton and return them to shore on their tiny boat.
The Finest Hours is based on the nonfiction book written by Casey Sherman and Michael J Touglas which recounted this heroic rescue mission, but the scriptewriters have embellished the story for dramatic purposes. However the screenwriting team of Scott Silver (8 Mile, etc), Paul Tamasay (a veteran of Disney films like Air Bud and its many sequels) and Eric Johnson – who all collaborated on The Fighter – have chosen to spend too much time on the melodramatic subplot involving Bernie’s fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger, from tv series The Borgias, etc), an unfortunately onedimensional character who worries about her man and the safety of the “suicidal” mission. While this subplot wrings plenty of emotion out of the material it ultimately detracts from the tense and compelling drama and the story of survival and courage playing out at sea.
The director is Craig Gillespie (the offbeat romantic comedy Lars And The Real Girl, the Fright Night remake, etc) who replaced original director Robert Schwentke, and he brings a claustrophobic tension and plenty of suspense to the material. He also brings an old fashioned style to the material that will remind audiences of those disaster movies that were immensely popular in the 70s.
Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (the Twilight saga, The Road, etc) has done a good job with the visuals, and there are a couple of jaw dropping visual moments here. And those scenes set amidst the huge waves battering the small craft will also remind audiences of Wolfgang Petersen’s The Perfect Storm, another true story, which starred George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg as sailors caught in a massive storm at sea. The Finest Hours is a little formulaic at times and some of the dialgue is a little cheesy and cliched, but this is still a tense and enjoyable drama.
Gillespie draws strong performances from his cast. Affleck in particular is having something of a purple patch at the moment, what with this film and the gritty Triple 9 hitting cinemas concurrently. Affleck has been appearing in some more gritty roles of late with films like The Killer Inside Me and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to his credit. Here he delivers a physical performance as the laconic, heroic, Sybert who directs the crew’s efforts. He is the real star of the film, and he captures that classic bravado of Hollywood heroes of yesteryear. Most of the film’s exciting parts centre around his efforts to keep the Pendleton afloat until help arrives.
Sybert clashes heatedly and often with the dubious Brown (Michael Raymond-James, from Black Snake Moan, etc) over the best course of survival, and the continued tension between the two men will remind audiences of that dynamic tension between Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine in the original The Poseidon Adventure, one of the best tales of survival and escape following a shipwreck.
Pine gives a decent performance as Webber, the iron willed and resilient Coast Guard sailor who is still haunted by a previous failed rescue attempt. He is a stickler for regulations but also something of a shy guy, especially when it comes to proposeing to Miriam. Rounding out Webber’s crew are Richard Livesey (Ben Foster, from Lone Survivor, etc), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and rookie Ervin Maske (John Magano), who all cope with the physically demanding conditions well. All four of them received Coast Guard awards for their dedication and bravery during that rescue. Eric Bana is a bit stiff and wooden as their officious Coast Guard commander who appears out of his depth in this time of crisis.
Gillespie and his production team have done a superb job of capturing the period detail. There are some superb CGI created special effects that recreate the devastating impact and power of the storm. Michael Corenbith’s strong production design creates the flooded engine room of the Pendleton where the crew try to keep the ship afloat.
Somewhat bafflingly though Disney, the local distributors, have virtually thrown the film away, releasing it cinemas on a limited basis and without any advance media previews to help publicise it. Which is a shame because The Finest Hours is a lot better than some of the big budget offerings currently choking up our multiplexes.
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