THE FINEST HOURS
2016, R, 117 mins.
2016, R, 117 mins.
Chris Pine as Bernie Webber / Ben Foster as Richard Livesey / Casey Affleck as Ray Sybert / Eric Bana as Daniel Cluff / Holliday Grainger as Miriam / Rachel Brosnahan as Bea Hansen / Graham McTavish as Frank Fateux / Kyle Gallner as Andy Fitzgerald / Josh Stewart as Tchuda Southerland / Beau Knapp as Mel Gouthro / Keiynan Lonsdale as Eldon Hanan / John Magaro as Ervin Maske
Directed by Craig Gillespie / Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson / Based on the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias
The descriptor “old fashioned” often gets thrown out in film review circles these days with a largely negative connotation.
FINEST HOURS is a new historical man versus nature disaster film that’s
old fashioned to its very core. It’s
told with broad and traditional strokes, to be sure, and contains many of
the standard troupes of fact based adventure dramas that have been
utilized countless times before. Yet,
director Craig Gillespie (LARS AND
THE REAL GIRL, FRIGHT NIGHT,
MILLION DOLLAR ARM)
understands how to navigate around such conventions and produces a
handsomely mounted and thoroughly stirring film that embraces it’s old
fashioned virtues without unintentionally feeling slavish to them.
Based on the book
THE FINEST HOURS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE U.S. COAST GUARD’S MOST DARING
SEA RESCUE by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, Gillespie’s film
details events that occurred off the coast of New England on February 18,
1952, during which time a hellish winter storm swooped in and literally
ripped an oil tanker – the the SS Pendleton – in half, leaving the
crew doomed. While the ship
was unable to send out distress signals due to damaged communication
systems, the nearby Massachusetts Coast Guard learned of its
predicament and sent out a small vessel of their own with a four-man crew
in a courageous rescue attempt. Considering
that the enormous oil tanker was shredded by the dangerous conditions,
the prospects of an infinitely smaller ship making it through the same
dangerous waters was a borderline suicidal prospect at best.
THE FINEST HOURS
opens rather quietly, though, before it dives into the particulars of the
incalculably daring rescue operation.
We’re introduced to a somewhat meek mannered, but duty and
honor bound Coast Guard Captain Bernie Weber (Chris Pine, refreshingly playing a
character well against type) that meets and falls in love with Miriam
(newcomer Holliday Grainger, an actress that was born to be shown in
close-up), a young operator that doesn’t quite have a firm grasp on the
magnitude and dangers of Bernie’s occupation. The couple decides to marry, but before that can happen
Bernie’s Commander, Daniel (Eric Bana), discovers the fate of the SS
Pendleton and its 34-man crew. Realizing
that very few choices are left on the table, Daniel gives the okay for
Bernie to lead a four man rescue operation – comprising of Andy (Kyle
Gallner), Richard (Ben Foster), and Ervin (John Magaro) – to depart on a
meager 36-foot boat (using mostly instincts and a whole lot of guts)
to find and rescue the Pendleton crew.
Miriam begins to see the mission for what it really is, but despite
her intense reservations, Bertie seems bound and determined to locate his
nautical comrades and return them home safely.
this story thread is the one on board the Pendleton itself, with its
entire crew waging mental wars with each other as to the right course of
action to take after their oil tanker had been broken in half.
The ship itself is taking in a massive amount of sea water, leaving
its sinking a slow, but painfully inevitable certainty.
Some members of the crew want to take their chances on the water
with life boats, but the tanker’s chief engineer Ray (a robustly
confident Casey Affleck) has a better and more inventive plan for
survival: He wants to steer the vessel – using some MacGyver-like
intuition and mechanical know-how – onto a nearby shoal in order to keep
the vessel afloat for as long as possible to ensure a higher probability
of being located. Of course,
many in his crew believe his plan to be crazy, but when the storm outside
becomes worse – forcing them to realize that escape via lifeboats is
impossible – Ray’s audacious plan seems like the only viable option
THE FINEST HOURS
is comprised of many predictable elements through and through: the
somewhat greenhorn, yet determined young hero that wants to prove himself;
the girlfriend back home that grows more petrified by the minute of her
lover’s chances of survival; a vessel’s crew that has
ideological differences regarding survival plans; the commanding officer
that must remain a stoic and professional figurehead in the face of
unspeakable emotional hardships; and so on. Yet,
it’s Gillespie’s tactful handling of these obligatory elements that
helps elevate THE FINEST HOURS above the laundry list of other throwaway
fact-based survival films. As
a grand adventure yarn showcasing intrepid men displaying the utmost valor
when faced with improbably odds of success, the film is largely engaging
and thoroughly suspenseful. It
would have been deceptively easy for Gillespie to get bogged down in
sentimental and manipulative schmaltz, but he somehow
manages to make THE FINEST HOURS breathlessly enthralling despite its
design of the picture is routinely stellar throughout, as Gillespie spares
no expense whatsoever in taking viewers back several decades, not to
mention that the visual effects utilized here to recreate the disaster at
sea and the Coast Guard’s rescue attempt are sort of thanklessly
impressive on a level of immersion and veracity.
On a purely visceral notes of making audience members truly feel like
they’re at sea suffering with these immeasurably brave souls, THE FINEST
HOURS is an absolute technical triumph.
Beyond the film’s impeccably strong production artifice,
Gillespie also relays the psychological horrors that befall these service
men and how they had to keep calm and collected to ensure their very
survival. The emotional toll
on these stranded souls must have been severe, and THE FINEST HOURS is on
resoundingly strong ground conveying them overcoming anxiety-riddled
hopelessness to band together to ensure their rescue.
in the film are sort of quietly powerful, perhaps more so that what I’ve
been accustomed to in these types of large-scale disaster films before.
Pine usually plays characters with a cocksure and likeable
arrogance, which makes his more reserved and introverted performance here
as Bernie all the more compelling. He
not only portrays his character’s unwavering gallantry and commitment to
a cause, but also his intimidation by the daunting mission he finds
himself involved in. Pine’s more internalized approach here is an invigorating
foil to the types of roles he’s played numerous times before. Casey Affleck – one of the more underrated and fascinating
actors working today – has a manner of finding small little performance
beats and idiosyncrasies with his respective character that speaks volumes
as to his thought processes and own internal struggles.
Rounding off the film’s decidedly good performance triumvirate is
Grainger, and despite being saddled with the grieving-wife-stuck-back-home
role, she nevertheless infuses a tremendous amount of soul and headstrong
conviction in it.
THE FINEST HOURS – if you pardon the expression – is not completely watertight. The film’s prologue showing Bertie’s and Miriam’s courtship is somewhat overly long (granted, the natural chemistry between the two stars makes it more forgiving). It also could be said that the film’s sheer spectacle somehow overwhelms a sense of emotional and dramatic connection to the characters and their plights. The 3D conversion on the film is a murky disaster too, leaving an already dark and ominous looking film almost indecipherable at times with its unnecessary multi-dimensional “upgrade.” Yet, as a thrilling and inspirational crowd pleaser, THE FINEST HOURS more than achieves its status quo. Much like THE PERFECT STORM (another true story film showcasing men battling horrendous conditions at sea) THE FINEST HOURS doesn’t reinvent the wheel as far as these genre films go, but it really knows how to spin it effectively in crafting an undeniably harrowing drama. Gillespie’s film is workmanlike and, yes, old fashioned, but it unpretentiously gets the job done…and much more so than other films that typically and unceremoniously get dumped at the multiplexes in late January every year; it emerges as a surprisingly assured cut above the rest.