The Finest Hours may not be perfect, but it’s certainly closer to it than A Perfect Storm. The 2000 film about the deadly nor’easter was heavy on cliche and clunky dialogue and ultimately unable to capture the terror and humanity of Sebastian Junger’s book. And while The Finest Hours isn’t immune to those faults either, director Craig Gillespie (Fright Night) at least made an effort.
The true story of what’s still considered the Coast Guard’s most daring rescue, The Finest Hours chronicles the 1952 mission to save 33 men from a sinking oil tanker in fifty-foot seas off the Massachusetts coast. Chris Pine is Bernie Webber, the young man (only 23 at the time) who braves hurricane conditions to lead the mission with three fellow seamen.
But the movie isn’t just about Bernie and his efforts, it also spends equal time with the crew on the tanker, the SS Pendleton. Split in half by the storm, the Pendleton has lost its captain, leaving chief engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) in charge. Unable to send out a distress call, he can only jerry-rig the crippled boat in hopes of keeping it afloat until someone notices it.
And then there are the people back on land, including Webber’s fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who can do nothing by wait for word on the mission’s success or failure.
The screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson (the trio behind 2010’s The Fighter), smoothly navigates the interlocking stories, giving each just enough time and attention to establish some truly memorable characters. And it doesn’t hurt that The Finest Hours is steeped in nostalgia– from the pre-credits refrain of Frank Sinatra’s “The Hucklebuck”, straight through to Kodaline’s version of the old shanty “Haul Away Joe”. There’s a palpable sense of small-town, aw-shucks America in this story, and it makes you root even harder.
Gillespie, who obviously had to rely on CG for most of the at-sea portion, does an admirable job keeping things fairly real. And there’s more than enough tension and anxiety to cover up the moments that look just a little too fake.
Pine and Affleck (and Grainger to a lesser extent) carry the film well, as both wisely avoid turning their characters into superheroes. Perfectly understated, their performances both take care to let the selfless actions do all the talking. It’s only the secondary characters who end up falling into one-note tropes, including Eric Bana as the gruff Coast Guard boss and Michael Raymond-James as the Pendleton’s resident ass.
Being a Disney-made family film, The Finest Hours does feel somewhat sanitized, but in the end that actually works in its favor, allowing audiences to focus solely on the men and their incredible mission. It’s an amazing story worth sharing, and the movie does a darn fine job sharing it.
Worth the 3D glasses?
There’s quiet a bit of flying snow and splashing water and steep waves, but it all ultimately gets distracting through the 3D glasses. The story and characters work just fine on their own. No gimmicks needed.